There are few things more depressing than an office crammed with cubicles – except, maybe, an empty office crammed with cubicles.
Such was the scene inside the Waterloo building formerly known as BlackBerry 5, when a startup called Auvik moved in earlier this year.
Security turnstiles still bearing the old RIM logo stood open and deactivated.
Meeting rooms, named after Monopoly game-board properties, sat silent.
High-backed office chairs were left clustered into corners, like debris from a receding tide.
“The term you can quote me on was ‘soul-crushing’,” said Alex Hoff, co-founder and Vice President, Product Management at Auvik, a cloud-based service that makes it easier for companies to manage their IT networks.
Today, the tide is rising and a sense of soul is returning to 156 Columbia St. W., as three-year-old Auvik gets set to come out of beta and release its offering commercially.
“This means growing and gearing up the sales team to keep up with all the marketing leads coming in,” Hoff told me recently, as a customer-feedback session in the company’s offices wrapped up.
The building is one of many properties BlackBerry sold off as the smartphone pioneer undertook a painful restructuring. Now owned by colourful Toronto investor and Dragons’ Den judge Michael Wekerle, who helped take BlackBerry public in 1997, the building houses Auvik’s 30-member team, and ongoing interior work suggests the company will soon have neighbours.
As for Auvik’s expansive second-floor space, it has been transformed from colourless cubicle farm into a bright, playful and more-open space, as befits a growing startup.
In addition to accent walls painted in vivid Auvik purple, the office features a bear mural, hand-painted signs displaying the company’s seven core values and other flourishes by Ontario artist Chris Austin.
The cubicles have been tamed with lower barriers between them, Nerf guns abound and a couple of stand-up workstations (one with a treadmill) serve to mix things up.
“You’ll note that almost nobody has an office,” Hoff said, adding that the one exception is Auvik’s salesperson, “because we don’t want to hear him on the phone all day. That’s for mutual benefit.”
A kitchen and eating area are open to the rest of the office, and thirsty guests can enjoy a beer from the company keg.
Wekerle “loves the keg” when he pops by to visit, Hoff said.
“And every time he comes, he leaves money,” said Jacqui Murphy, Auvik’s VP of Marketing. “He comes, and he’ll entertain people and show them the building and offer them a beer, but then he always leaves money on the keg.”
“It’s like, ‘You don’t have to’,” Hoff said.
For Auvik employees, it’s been an adjustment moving from their original location at Workplace One, in downtown Kitchener’s historic, brick-and-beam Breithaupt Block, to a more suburban-style office building. But parking is abundant, transit is right outside the door and plenty of food options are nearby, with the University of Waterloo so close.
As for the company, which raised $6 million in venture capital in 2013, the coming year will be all about ramping up sales and marketing as it comes out of beta testing, Hoff said.
Since it’s a web-based product that automates processes, growth is not dependent on a massive increase in headcount, though 10 to 15 new hires can be expected over the next year if things go well.
“I’d like to say with any startup, you’re either going to double or go to zero. There are really only two outcomes: Either this product is a success and sales will drive growth, or it’s going to flop, and then you have to re-evaluate what you’re doing,” Hoff said.
“So there’s only two directions; there’s no middle of staying where we are.”
With plenty of room to grow in a bright new environment, I'm guessing the middle wouldn’t be much fun for Auvik, anyway.
Anthony Reinhart is Communitech’s Director of Editorial Strategy and senior staff writer. View from the ‘Loo looks at the issues, people and events that shape Waterloo Region’s technology sector.