A venture capitalist’s guide to intentionally manipulating space to ignite creativity and company values

I remember it like it was yesterday, it was a cold January night when we finally got the keys to our new office. The jet-lag from nearly two-months of travel through Vietnam was finally starting to fade away. In the month prior, we rebranded our venture capital firm, and now we were on a mission to make sure our new home office reflected our rebranded venture capital firm’s values and culture.

With office space running scarce in the Jackson Square neighborhood of San Francisco, this was not an easy task. The majority of available real estate consisted of dark, closed layouts, and low ceilings. As a venture capital firm who invests in brilliant teams building the technology to sway what’s next, this was far from the look and feel we were after.

Side note: Our search to find the perfect space was inspired by the works of Scott Doorley and Scott Witthoft, co-directors of the Environments Collaborative at the Stanford d.school — that’s “d” for design — and co-authors of the book, Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration. It’s a recommended read for designers charged with creating new spaces or anyone interested in revamping an existing space.

Then we found it: an old, weathered warehouse which once existed as a candy factory in 1907. To make the deal even sweeter, did I mention Max Levchin launched Affirm in this building? While the open space, brick-and-timber, high wood-beamed ceilings were exactly what we wanted; some work was required on our part to give it the Sway Ventures seal.

As a firm, we are very active. We go to bed each night and wake up every morning thinking about how we can add value to the companies we make investments in. So our new home in Jackson Square would be no different.

At the onset, we committed to the idea that our new space would not only serve as an office, but more importantly as an extension to our portfolio companies. We would build a space that our founders and their teams felt welcome — like home — where they could stop by and grab a coffee, or sit at the table and forgo their computer screens and spreadsheets and focus on people.

Everything we incorporated was done for one reason: to represent our values as a firm. Below, we’ve outlined the principles we strive to live by at Sway Ventures and how we let them speak in brick-and-mortar form:

#breakthrough

We are a work-hard, play-hard firm. We challenge each other every day, and never settle for incrementalism, ever. We could have hired professional tradesmen for the buildout, but Patrick (ONeill) took this value on quite literally. On the morning of the second day he purchased a sledgehammer and a crowbar… 30 minutes later, I found this:

…so I rolled up my sleeves and joined in.

#hustle

As a firm, our greatest asset has always been our hustle. It’s helped us win deals, strengthen relationships, and continues to be the driving force behind our firm. We believe in making things happen, and always resisting stasis.

To help attract and engage founders and limited partners, we wanted our space to feel like home away from home. Like every home, there is a sense of pride and ownership, so we took that same mentality to our new space. Every inch was designed with our own hands: from painting the 20-foot walls and beams, to designing the kitchen, assembling the furniture, and creating every art piece. Even the things that often go unnoticed, like moving our 800-pound Framery O phone booths, installing new toilets and vanities, and trips to the to the dump was done by Patrick and me.

#commit

Early on, we knew our office would be more than a work space. We made a commitment that our space would serve our founders and limited partners and strengthen our relationship with the tech community. So we needed to design the space to be flexible enough to challenge conventional boundaries, inspire creativity and bold ideas, and yet practical and functional to get the work done. So that’s exactly what we did.

One of the first features one notices upon entering is that the space is built for collaboration, from the large common space, to the family-style dining tables and kitchen, it’s perfect for impromptu meetings, events or keynotes. So far, this space has been used to host everything from portfolio board meetings, pop-up events, product launch parties, book tours, senators, and private pairings and mix plate dinners. With casters on everything, and I mean everything, the entire office can, in a moment’s notice, be transformed from an office to an dual-purpose event space.

#unity

We’ve never been fans of the cubicle, which is why you won’t find one in our office. Our team works in one room — without any walls or dividers. We wanted everyone to feed off one another’s energy, which is why everyone works within the same space. Currently housing 16 team members and portfolio companies, Sway Ventures space is designed to flex and grow. We win and fail together.

Paint & Pixels. It was important for us to marry our digital experience, or “brand” to our physical space. The entire space is aesthetically wrapped around reclaimed wood, brick-and-timber, and a monochrome color scheme with a green accent wall.

#NFTC (Never forget the customer)

Never forget whose money it is and whose company it’s invested in.
We think of our customers — founders and limited partners — as family, and we pride ourselves on building lasting relationships with them. We have an open-door policy, and always have a fresh pot of coffee or snacks waiting for their arrival. But don’t be surprised if you see familiar faces on the wall, because like in any home, family photos are a crucial part of our identity. As you look around our office, you’ll see custom designed portraits of our founders and their amazing companies.

If you’re building the technology to sway what’s next, and ever traveling to or through the Jackson Square neighborhood of San Francisco, please don’t hesitate to reach out and meet our team. Just drop us an e-mail at businessplans@swayvc.com.