Discover more from Aaron Kardell's Blog
End of an Era
Hello! I’m Aaron Kardell. In my Sunday newsletter, I pick one random topic to go deep on and have some disparate quick hits at the end.
This week, we closed the old HomeSpotter office in Minneapolis. I’ve worked out of the Minneapolis Grain Exchange’s three buildings for 12 years, and it feels like the end of an era. I was pretty ambivalent about the decision to close the office as it wasn’t being used a ton and was the financially prudent thing to do. Nevertheless, walking out of the office this past Wednesday made it real and impacted me more than I thought it would. I apologize as I wax nostalgic about this…
It all started in the summer of 2011. I had started what would later become HomeSpotter two years prior. Still, up until that point, I hadn’t hired any employees. That summer, I hired three interns. I had to upgrade from working out of coffee shops and find space to work together. A popular local coworking space – CoCo – was opening its second location in Minneapolis in the historic Grain Exchange. Three buddies and I went in on renting a “reserved campsite” for “6-8 people” at Coco together. Saying there was room for 8 at this reserved space was … generous. I think we paid $1,200 per month for this space, and it was great to split that rent with friends who were independent contractors.
I was so cheap at the time that I avoided paying for parking downtown by parking on the other side of the river and instead paying $50 a year to rent a bike from Nice Ride and ride it across. That kept my operating expenses for this office first office to ~$600/month for the business + $50/year for “parking.”
I was only in the CoCo space for a year and a half, but it was very impactful. At the time, it was the place for startups and independent contractors in Minneapolis to be. I met many people there, including some who would become angel investors, independent contractors, or employees for HomeSpotter. Also- the coffee was excellent.
By late 2012, as we were pushing past 8 people, we were starting to overstay our welcome in our relatively small “campsite.” We signed a lease in the building with the Grain Exchange and moved to our own office downstairs in 109M. Around this time, I got comfortable paying $150/month for parking downtown.
Our first day in our own office with our cheap custom-built ‘mega’ table
We had about 1,400 square feet downstairs, and at some point, we managed to squeeze nearly 20 people into that space. Side note… I don’t recommend that.
Two memories that stand out to me most from that space. First, we had no running water, and I was trying to solve how to make coffee. I was excited about this combined water cooler/coffee maker I purchased from Costco. I somehow managed to break it on very first use. Fortunately, Costco’s return policies are rather generous.
Second, at some point, I realized it was ridiculous to try and fit so many people into the space. While waiting on the build-out of our new future space, we secured two additional temporary spots spread out across all three buildings and multiple floors. One day, we signed our biggest customer to date, increasing our annual revenue by ~40%. I went full “Ballmer” and ran from each one of our offices to the other, screaming in celebration.
In September 2014, we moved to the space that would serve as home for most of our time in the Grain Exchange - 365N. We were able to work with the building on a custom build-out, and we had a design that really suited us. Our creative director, Nate, oversaw the design and build-out decisions. As we were moving in, I learned that we had orange … I mean, “coral” colored doors. Nate wasn’t sure how I’d respond, but I loved it. At some point, many of the rooms received Arrested Development-themed names. The lunch room was called “The Banana Stand”. Our small conference rooms were “Lucille 1” and “Lucille 2”.
I don’t even know where to begin with so many memories in that space. It’s where I experienced most of the highs and lows of running an early-stage startup. Over time, certain norms developed. Every Friday, we ordered lunch and had a weekly company meeting. We expected people on their birthdays to bring in donuts for everyone else or be shamed. We had a gong to ring when you closed a sale.
Many seemingly crazy ideas were hatched in this office. For example, we decided to make superhero bobblehead figurines of MLS executives and send them to them as part of a whacky marketing campaign. Another day, I made a rule that I’d buy donuts any time someone would run to the donut shop and back in 10 minutes or less and then proceeded to show that it could be done.
We were running out of space again in late 2019 / early 2020 and explored other options in the building. As COVID spread, we adopted a “work from home by default” policy early on. I was unsure what to do about our office lease renewal. Still, it was an excellent time to negotiate deals on office space. We secured a much nicer and larger office for less money, with a lot of optionality on getting more space or terminating the lease early with no penalty.
We moved into 960N in the summer of 2020 and have been there since. In reality, that has meant that 4 days a week, I’ve gone into an empty office of >6,000 square feet. Often, there’d be one day a week with a rotating crew of a half dozen people.
For that reason, it’s no surprise that we closed the office. It wasn’t financially prudent to continue to lease a large office that hardly anyone was using. At Lone Wolf, we still have quite a few employees in the Minneapolis / St. Paul area… however, most people prefer to work from home most of the time.
There have been a lot of last times and new beginnings since selling the company over two years ago, but this change hit a bit differently.
As evidenced by going into a large empty office, I don’t particularly appreciate working from home. But ultimately, I’m not going to miss the physical space. The offices were nice enough. But the building was old and in need of a ton of maintenance.
Even though I’m an introvert, I miss working with people in person. And I can’t help but be reminiscent of memories created with a fantastic crew of individuals over the years.
I’ve been transitioning out of the office in August – forcing myself to work from home. It’s okay. Life moves on. If I have days that are light on meeting schedules, you’ll find me returning to my roots and working from coffee shops more often. I like the change of pace and the white noise they provide.
We celebrated Wednesday’s last day in the office with a lunch and a happy hour. It felt particularly fitting to share lunch with Mark and Sarah, having shared so many memories over the years in that space.
If you’re reading this and you joined me on the HomeSpotter journey somewhere along the way – whether as an employee, customer, vendor, contractor, investor, or other key collaborator – all I have to say is thanks. It was a fantastic ride, and I’m grateful to each of you for joining me.
And to be clear, I’m still at Lone Wolf… Just working remotely and not primarily focused on HomeSpotter matters.
This Week’s Quick Hits
Despite the end of one era noted above, I ended a nearly five-year hiatus from working on HomeSpotter code this past week. It was likely a one-off occurrence designed to help the team meet a sudden, unexpected deadline on an area of the code I knew well. One-off or not, it felt good to know I still could.
Here’s an interesting take on solving the student loan debt issue from a couple months ago by David Frum. As he says, it’s so crazy it just might work.
Thanks for reading Aaron Kardell's Blog! Subscribe to receive new posts on Sundays.