Hierarchy of start ups, architects, and furniture
The conversation went something like this:
me: We may need to fill in with some furniture from Ikea to hit the budget.
Client: Ha! I am hoping to upgrade to Ikea!
I laughed because sometimes, that is just so true! When you are in start up survival mode as a business, you are at the bottom levels of Maslow’s hierarchy. You can’t really afford to care about looks and if you hire an architect to help with your space, it is only because you have chosen a business or space where by law you have to have a permit. Your furniture is from your parents or your basement or the neighbors garage sale or if you are going really uptown, from Staples or OfficeMax. You figure it out yourself, or ask your slightly more creative spouse, and you deliberately don’t notice because you can’t afford to notice how poorly it functions or bad it looks – you are in start up survival mode and all of your efforts have to be towards getting the business off the ground and moving in the right direction.
The next levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs involve creating community and building self esteem. So you take your start up and move it out of your house and create your own work community. You move to a space that you think is kind of cool and you buy some lobby furniture that looks good to your eye. At this point, you might spring for matching desks or hire an architect/designer with a portfolio of beautiful work. You know there is more to life / business / work than survival and you are ready. You know that you have built something good and you want it to look like a “real business”. You are proud of what you have made and want to polish it up a bit. It is still a bit piecemeal in places but good.
Most people (and businesses) stop there, but you can do better. The top level of Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs is ‘Self Actualization’. You and your business have climbed through the levels of survival, shelter, community, and esteem and are finally ready to become who you were always meant to be. It is at this point that branding becomes more than something on your business must do list. The very real questions of who are we? what purpose do we serve? how do we best carry out that purpose? what do I want? become internal drivers and not just part of your marketing strategy. Answering those questions well and acting on them gets you to the top of the hierarchy pyramid. It gets you beyond a designer who does “pretty” or an architect that will get you a permit, and beyond make-do or piece meal furniture. It is a place where more alignment acts as a flywheel spinning your business faster and further. Mission, Values, Strategies, and Objectives are clearly understood, communicated, and very obviously driving the behaviors and decisions of everyone on the team. The physical space supports and drives relationships, interactions, and work patterns. You are the brand and the brand is you – seamlessly integrated from operations to the branding of the website to the branding of physical collateral to the branding of the physical spaces you occupy. This is good stuff. This is purpose. This is why you launched the start up in the first place.
With the satisfaction of a climber reaching the peak, you will find that the top of Maslow’s pyramid is a great place to be.