Move it or lose it

When is it time to move? How Houston's small companies can find their next office space

Finding a new, larger office space is part of the startup growth process. Getty Images

There are a number of ways to measure the stage of growth a company is enjoying: funding, headcount, acquisitions, exit strategy, and more. But one telling indicator that often goes overlooked is the office space they call home.

In the early days of a startup, working out of someone's garage or at a nearby coffee shop, you dream of moving into a coworking space Such a transition can mean a financial squeeze for some, especially when your prior solution was free. But paying for a space can mark a milestone — it signifies that you've made it to the next chapter. Houston has a number of great options for the many local early-stage startups undertaking this type of move.

Over time, though, as your company continues to grow, this solution may begin to cause strain. There's a big difference between a team of six sharing a room in a WeWork, and a team that's reached double-digits having to manage within a space that it has outgrown. Even external amenities like meeting rooms can become insufficient — as your team evolves, more meetings will be necessary, and the standards and needs at play will shift.

Finding your own private office space in Houston is not a challenge; it requires, however, acknowledging that the time has come to take this next step. Signals that it's time to move out and get your own space typically surface in two ways:

  1. What used to feel like an intimate setting has turned into an untenable situation. People are spending too much time talking about the coworking space and its limits.
  2. And, on the flip side, branding your company identity becomes a topic on your radar. If you find a great software engineer interested in joining your team, they might have some reservations about coming aboard with you if they discover you're sitting in a coworking space rather than your own space.

At SquareFoot, the commercial real estate company I founded in Houston in 2011, I have given special attention to companies looking for their first office space. It can be daunting at first, but our brokers know better than anyone how to be trusted advisors for small business owners searching for their first locations.

The most important question at this stage, we've found, is not which neighborhood they'd like to be in, what their budget is, or what amenities they want. Rather, it's a common growth question: Where do you see yourself in three to five years? By asking this question of CEOs in initial conversations, we can get a better idea of what type of growth they project, and how we can most efficiently find them the right space to accommodate their current needs and future goals.

We see office space as more than segments of larger office buildings. These spaces mean a great deal to the companies that inhabit them. It's our responsibility to fit the right team into the right space, and to advocate and negotiate on their behalf.

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SquareFoot Founder and CEO Jonathan Wasserstrum, who hails from Houston, has worked for over a decade in commercial real estate. Outside of work, Jonathan is interested in the three Bs — bourbon, buffalo wings, and brass bands.

The MKT expects to revolutionize the live-work-play model with everything from retail and restaurant to office and coworking space. Courtesy of The MKT

On a stroll or a spin down the Heights Hike and Bike Trail, you might not notice a complete transformation is eminent. The MKT — a mixed-use renovation and build out project — is getting ready to break ground.

The five-building, 200,000-square-foot project will bring 30 retail and restaurant concepts, and 100,000 square feet of office space together along with four acres of green space, parking, and an outdoor venue alongside 1,000 linear feet of the trail between North Shepherd Drive and Herkimer Street. The MKT name comes from the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad — later known as the Katy Railroad — that was transformed into the Heights Hike and Bike Trail.

MKT is a joint partnership between Houston-based Radom Capital, which is behind Heights Mercantile down the street, and Triten Real Estate Partners with capital partner, Long Wharf. The architect behind the project is Austin-based Michael Hsu Office of Architecture. Shop Companies is doing the retail leasing, and JLL's Houston office is coordinating the office leasing space.

"There's nothing in Houston that's like this that's upscale creative office space with a huge retail and restaurant component that's located on a major hike and bike trail right in the city," Russell Hodges, managing director of agency leasing at JLL, tells InnovationMap.

Ultimately, the project, which will break ground in the next 60 to 90 days, is a renovation, as the five industrial buildings that make up The MKT currently exist and were built in the '70s. The transformation will include redoing the facades of the buildings and incorporating green space.

The creative office space, which will be in three of the buildings, is doing something a little different than most office buildings in Houston. Originally, Hodges says they expected interest from TAMI tenants — which stands for technology, advertising, media, and information companies — but the interest they have had so far has been diverse.

"The project caters to the tenant that's looking for something different — looking for, honestly for lack of a better word, cool space," Hodges says. "Someone looking for something to help differentiate their business to leverage their office space to recruit and retain talent."

Another unexpected interested party — coworking tenants. Hodges says the project could house anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 square feet of coworking space if the right coworking operator comes around.

"I don't think we were necessarily looking for coworking, per say," Hodges says. "But, we've had significant interest from coworking operators. Based on that level of interest, we think that there's demand for coworking in the area. We're looking for the right operator who's brand aligns with the brand of the project. I don't think that's every coworking brand, necessarily."

The team behind The MKT are also planning a second phase of the project for a large space just east of phase one. That concept has yet to be designed, and there aren't any specifics currently available.

Big picture

Courtesy of The MKT

On the project's website, this rendering can be interacted with to see 3D designs and before and after shots.