Now that we’re almost done settling down in the new office space and finally know our way around the kitchen, we decided it was a good moment to grab a coffee with our CEO Goran Prijic and talk about the company, its history and vision...all through the lens of four office spaces we’ve occupied to this day and accompanied by photos of the newest one.
Take us back where it all started, the first Vivify Ideas office. How big was the initial team and what was the space like? Looking back, is there anything you miss from that period?
Our very first office was essentially an apartment with two rooms. One of them was repurposed into a conference room, while the other served as our main (and only) workroom. With a maximum capacity of ten developers, the area was extremely small, even for our humble beginnings. Oh, and despite the space being tiny, it still somehow managed to feel too expensive at the time. In fact, we even had some serious talks about working remotely or somehow finding an even cheaper alternative.
Now that I think of it, there seems to be a pattern here. We move into a new place and start having seconds thoughts on whether it’s too big or extravagant for us, but as we grow and our needs grow as well, we’re proven wrong every single time. How one feels in their environment is crucial for comfort and productivity and makes the office space one of the most important considerations for any company.
Looking back, that first rent was pretty sweet.
We quickly outgrew the first office and moved to the second one which even had a pool! We haven’t had one since then, care to explain why?!
Yeah, the second office was a dream: twice as big and three times as expensive. Just like I mentioned, it seemed like overkill for a team of 10 but we also saw multiple ways we could benefit from it. You see, in the beginning, we had trouble acquiring talent and sometimes we’d even lose candidates to competitors based on their location and much nicer offices, so we decided to step up our game but also to go in a slightly different direction.
Instead of trying to compete in the city center, we moved away to a quieter district which also gave us a lot more space to work with: more parking space, a garden with our own veggies and a garage equipped with a ping pong and foosball tables. Naturally, before fully committing to the idea, we’ve sent out a questionnaire and it came back with very positive results so we went for it!
Oh yeah and that pool was great but we’ve essentially stopped using it after a few water polo matches.
In all seriousness, though, the move to a new office is usually stimulated by growth and this has been a pattern in Vivify Ideas up until this point. What’s interesting about the third office is the fact that you decided to build it from scratch according to your own estimated needs. Tell us more about what went into designing that office building.
That decision was actually easier to make than the previous one. Once again, we needed a much bigger space and we simply couldn’t find a house that big, so we had to begin looking for a “real” office space, and wow, did they turn out to be pretty expensive. So expensive, in fact, that when put on paper, it just made a lot more sense to simply build our own space. Sure, it would take some time to pay it off, but we’d be paying off something that is ours.
It is for that reason that we had no trouble envisioning the place and taking into consideration all its requirements. We knew exactly what we needed and building that from scratch was a breeze.
Considering that every architectural structure has a core idea at its heart, what was yours?
Ours was a culmination of all the elements we’ve come to enjoy in our previous spaces. We wanted to have as much of open, naturally-lit space as possible and to make sure that our office hours are somehow connected to nature, removed from the chaos of the city.
Do you feel like you accomplished what you wanted? Any piece of advice you’d give to young entrepreneurs/startups aiming at building their own space?
One thing I can say is that I think it’s a bad move business-wise. When you begin to invest in such things, it freezes your otherwise available resources. It is also a huge time investment when you could be focusing on things that are crucial for your company. After all, we are developers, and that’s what we’re good at.
Sure, building our own space made perfect sense financially, but it still took months of intensive work for our small team, which we could have invested in our own product.
On the other hand, this was more of a conventional, safe investment, which we knew would pay off in the near future.
You’d think that once you’ve built something of your own, you’re likely to never move out, yet here we are, sitting in a space that’s about 7x larger than our previous one.
Yeah, our initial projection indicated that it’d be big enough for the next five years and we even considered buying some of the adjoining space for future expansion. However, with the scope of our projects growing much faster than anticipated, we naturally outgrew the place within two and a half years. For a while, we had to rent an additional office, but it was too far from the HQ and split the company in half, which didn’t prove to be beneficial.
Now in our new space, as the CEO one would expect you to have your own separate office, but you remain with us “in the trenches”. Does that give you a better insight into the development process, or is it because you prefer a hands-on approach?
We simply put a great value on face-to-face communication. I strongly believe that real communication between team members is more efficient and sincere than, let’s say, chatting on Slack or whatever. Facial expressions and body language are worth more than a 1000-word email.
That’s why we make sure that teams are always placed together, especially making sure that juniors are placed next to seniors and both introverted and extroverted colleagues feel comfortable in their teams. It’s a practice that has been analytically proven to be beneficial, both on the personal and team levels.
The idea of open office spaces has been recently criticized as an environment that actually decreases face-to-face communication and leaves very little personal space. What are your thoughts on that and what precautions are we taking to create the most optimal working space?
Yes, there are certainly pros and cons to the principle and to be clear: we aren’t chasing the idea of an open office space. In fact, now that we’ve settled in, we’re thinking of dividing this entire area based on teams and projects. We don’t see any palpable advantage in everyone sharing a large space, but we’re adamant on never separating members within a team.
For the space we’re currently occupying, I’m planning to do some internal and external research and find out what people reportedly seem to prefer and then begin creating the best possible environment for our colleagues. Naturally, we’ll never be able to satisfy everyone’s needs, but I’m sure we’ll find the most optimal and comfortable solution.
We’ve not only united two of our office branches under the same roof, but also our Vivify Academy course rooms. Can you share some future plans for the extra free space?
The biggest perk is obviously finally having both offices connected, but having the academy rooms around the corner is especially useful. When new students arrive, they can now get a much better insight into our processes and workflow. It’s also easier for our teachers (senior Vivify Ideas devs) to get to their classes without having to travel across the city.
When we’ve divided the team into two offices, it took no more than six months to see a decline in communication between the two. We then came to realize that when physically dividing a team into two offices, you’re essentially creating separate silos, each of them bound to develop its own culture. That’s something we wanted to avoid by moving into a much larger, futureproof space where information can be shared effortlessly.
When it comes to the extra free area, we’re toying with various ideas and options. It all really boils down to whether we want to make more profit on the space itself or repurpose and configure the available surface for new creative endeavours. The former can be in the shape of a public coworking hub for individuals or companies, while the latter is simply equipping the available rooms with the necessary tech, but I leave that for our colleagues to decide together.