Podcast Episode 11: Picking an Office

By Aya Taher

[Unedited Transcript]

Rich Ziade: [00:00:00] I’ve heard different arguments. Paul. Can a startup be a resounding success without an office, meaning a purely remote only startup?

Paul Ford: Yes. Objectively, yes. I’m sure that could work, right? Um, it, I, I, look, I think it’s, let me be the. Distinguished older business thing person, which


Rich Ziade: business thing.

Paul Ford: uh, it depends, right?

So I saw somebody on, um, Mastodon today, uh, say, you know, that their, their team is starting to get together and do its planning in person. People come together and plan and then they go off and work, right? And I think that that’s an interesting dynamic [00:01:00] to like, to get a clear dynamic as to what requires people to be in a.

Places matter. They’re social. If a, if a business is a, I think if a business is like a purely abstract cloud service that is turnkey and that you never interact with a human I, I think building that remotely is fine. Yeah. I think if we had tried to build a.


If we tried to build a services firm, an agency purely remotely, it would’ve been a disaster.

It wouldn’t have worked.

Rich Ziade: It’s challenging.

Paul Ford: Right. And so I think that what

Rich Ziade: we, we were very remote worth noting, but the core of the business was in New York City.

Paul Ford: Look, everybody’s looking for everything to be monolithic all the time. Everybody wants one answer to everything. Yeah. So the question is, what kind of business are you building and what are the goals for it?

What social interactions are gonna allow it to be the most productive? Mm-hmm. , then you decide your office structure. Mm-hmm. . So for us, I think that the [00:02:00] better deal is, you know, what is a board? A board is a product about communities and groups working together. How are we gonna sell and market a board?

Well, we’ll do YouTube videos and we’ll do this, that and the other, but we’ll also have events. We’ll bring people in, we’ll have enterprises that we want to talk to. We hope that they wanna buy a site license.

Rich Ziade: Mm-hmm. . point we don’t know. In fact the kinds of, okay, so you’re touching on two things. One is people working together at a startup

Paul Ford: and then there’s the interaction with the outside world, which also happens at an

Rich Ziade: We, we, and we are biased because we’re in one of the most dynamic cities in the world, but we often used to say, and we want to recreate that again, which is that train terminal where everyone flows through.

Paul Ford: The best part about what we were in an agency to me, was always that we would have the big bank and the, the transit agency would kind of be at the same party

Rich Ziade: and the nonprofit.

Paul Ford: That’s right. And out of that there would be conversations and introductions and things would move along [00:03:00] in a broad way. And that’s, I want that back.

I do want that

Rich Ziade: back. Good chaos.

Paul Ford: Good chaos. A space where you can host people. The ability to, um, do a seminar and training, things like that are really important.

Rich Ziade: What’s the point of all this, Paul? What happened to like turnkey product led growth services where people get a URL and fall in love with the software and then get their credit card out?

Why they, why do they need to come to my office in Manhattan?

Paul Ford: Man, that is some West Coast stuff

Rich Ziade: Nah,

Paul Ford: I, I. I don’t know.

Rich Ziade: your hand here, Paul. We are an East Coast startup,

Paul Ford: I’ll tell you what West Coast people are like, you know what? I don’t even know what human beings are and I can’t wait until artificial general intelligence shows up and does it all for us.

Rich Ziade: Why do you even need a

Paul Ford: Why have a, yeah, why have a human, I can’t wait to just plug the internet directly into my colon and just like blast 90 gigabits of information into my butt.

Rich Ziade: This is the old school ingredient that I think we believe You still have to [00:04:00] kind of pound the pavement and talk to people and interact and see their faces.

Like even if you have built the best tech in town,

Paul Ford: people see this as like a moral failure too. They’re like, oh, well then it’s not real. Or you’re, you’re, you’re exploiting humans by making them come to the office or whatever. I’m like, I’m sorry I can’t change many millennia, uh, many hundreds of millions of years of human evolution.

Rich Ziade: Uh, what’s ironic is that we view building a business purely transactionally without seeing other humans as a moral failure too.

Paul Ford: Well, no. exactly. Look, I mean,

Rich Ziade: it’s, it’s another flavor of moral failure.

Paul Ford: Look, everybody wants to make, I don’t know, they wanna talk about capitalism or they wanna talk about this, or they wanna talk about the other.

We’re social creatures. You know, you ever, monkeys don’t like pick knits out of each other’s hair remotely. They don’t go like, hold on, let me get that off you. Let me, let me groom you over Zoom. It, it’s just what it is. And so like, and it, it’s, that’s, you know what I, it’s kind of a sticky truth, [00:05:00] right? The sticky truth is that like human beings have power dynamics.

They have, uh, ambition and they have goals, and they like to be in rooms with other human beings. And sometimes the, those rooms aren’t perfectly equit.

Rich Ziade: I, I read the, uh, Salesforce book by Mark Benioff.

Paul Ford: That’s great. I took about 32 minutes.

Rich Ziade: The font is big.

Paul Ford: I love when you get to a business books, the line spacing and the business book.

You could fly a plane. You could fly a private jet.

Rich Ziade: Let me die.

Paul Ford: Through the Spacey

Rich Ziade: for a second. I bought the Andy Grove book, one of the Absolute Pioneers of Silicon Valley.

It was like a fourth grade education book. I didn’t understand it

Paul Ford: a business book right there.

Rich Ziade: Well, that’s just, so, that’s the ghost writer and the editor taking care of business. I go, well, well, Andy, you’re a smart guy. I’ll take it from here. It is

Paul Ford: I gotta say, when you, everybody talks. [00:06:00] CEOs and pisses people is absolute geniuses. Yeah. But then look at the materials that have been presented for them and by them.

Rich Ziade: Well, you know what it is. It’s not that they’re all absolute, some are incredibly intelligent. The best CEOs know how to talk to the widest audience possible.

Paul Ford: Yeah. But most of those books are written for a dog.

Rich Ziade: They’re written for like nine year

Paul Ford: Yeah. For like a like, or, or a Shetland Poie.

Rich Ziade: I was like, this could have been an essay

Paul Ford: Oh yeah.

Rich Ziade: Uh, anyway, from that book, it’s actually fascinated, the story arc is fascinating. They, Salesforce did not have a Salesforce, they were a product-led growth. They’re probably the first ever real product led growth

Paul Ford: company.

Definitely at that scale, right?

Rich Ziade: right?

You signed up and you bought stuff like it was Amazon. And then you deployed it in your Oregon guess.


nailed it and they plateaued and he said, you know what? We need to throw parties.

Paul Ford: Yeah. They got the force part. Right. But they forgot the sales part.

Rich Ziade: They went [00:07:00] on tour. They started to go to parties, they started to go to c trade shows and conventions.

They became an old school, classic sales driven

Paul Ford: I mean, look at, look at the way that Dreamforce, their giant conference takes over the

Rich Ziade: the, that’s how the, that’s the bookend. Right? And

Paul Ford: they always have like the Foo Fighters play. It’s pretty, it’s pretty rough when those, those YouTube videos hit and

Rich Ziade: it is, I think Metallica did it one year.

Paul Ford: Metallica was like all in, like, it was like

Rich Ziade: I just want to thank

Paul Ford: Oh no, they, they were talking about how they use Salesforce to bandage the fan

Rich Ziade: No, they were

Paul Ford: Swear to baby Jesus. Yeah.

Rich Ziade: God bless.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: But he says in the book, I realized that to really take off and to really grow the business, I need to meet people. I need to build a great sales organization and they need to get on the plane.

He knew it. And look

Paul Ford: God, you and I just, we [00:08:00] fantasize that we’re technologists, don’t we?

We think we’re such smart

Rich Ziade: we’re salespeople. You

Paul Ford: and I are salespeople, aren’t we?

Rich Ziade: all. Every, all,

Paul Ford: rich. I’m like a thoughtful essayist writer. I, I, I question the status quo. I’m known as like someone who’s very ambiguous about technology and,

Rich Ziade: You, you sell the sleep number

Paul Ford: I just roll around,

Rich Ziade: That’s all

Paul Ford: Roll my big fleshy body roll look. This is number eight. Look at this. Oh,

Rich Ziade: You’re watch, you’re watching this. The left side. She can tilt it up. Your wife, the wife can be up further. You could be laying flat.

Paul Ford: I’ll tell, look, watch me take a nap.

Rich Ziade: Two remote controls.

Paul Ford: boy. And it smells good.

Rich Ziade: Uh, and so that takes us back to what it means to, and, and look, we

Paul Ford: you know, it feels good to just say, it feels good to just be like, you know what? I am an enterprise software salesman.

Let’s just get in there. All, I love product. I love technology. I love Kodak. I love all of it top to bottom. But you know what seals the deal. [00:09:00] You get a a, a fridge with a clear glass front and you fill it with really good beverages. I’ll tell you that is 80% of a successful software firm because what people do is they come in and they go like, oh, you know what? They really, they’re, they’re, first of all, their employees are so valuable that they’ll get them probiotic beverages

Rich Ziade: Eminem dispensers,

Paul Ford: because I’ll tell you, when they, when people come from the world of.

To the world of like

Rich Ziade: Cold brew

Paul Ford: Yeah. They go

That’s how they know. They’re like, it’s, it’s a fantasy. You’re giving them the fantasy of, of the startup and of connecting to something that is young and dynamic. They have a hundred times more economic and cultural power than you do.

Yeah. But their coffee comes in a little canister.

Rich Ziade: What is so powerful about creating social settings is that there is no end game. You really [00:10:00] don’t know what’s coming down. All you know is it’s a good kind of chaos.

Paul Ford: creates opportunity in a way that being in your house does not

Rich Ziade: I, whoa God. Spotify, it’s good to see you here. What are you thinking? Do you have a minute?

I wanna talk to you about how Spotify playlists and a board can play. Nice. We’re not even, whoa, I didn’t expect this.

Paul Ford: being, you’re actually being more transactional than you really are. Because what happens is it’s like, oh, you work at Spotify?

Where are you guys? Oh, you’re like six blocks away. Totally. Yeah. And that’s it. That’s the end of the conversation. And then six months later, yeah. Um, someone named Cynthia gets in touch and mentions the name of the person at the party that you can’t remember. That’s right. And that’s the future of your business.

Rich Ziade: That’s more how it goes


Paul Ford: Well, obviously we could, we could reproduce that with a Miro board and Zoom and we just have to get them to come to the meeting. They’re not gonna come to the meeting. You know, why? No probiotic beverages, no beer, no

Rich Ziade: No other

Paul Ford: no other humans to meet.

No one to [00:11:00] impress, you know, humans like to, you know, why they go to that room? You know why they come to the event? Why to figure out where they are social. you can’t do that remotely

Rich Ziade: And, and oftentimes to sort of, uh, reveal themselves in what they view as like, this is a valuable place for me to reveal

Paul Ford: Where I, where I lose my mind is everyone is just like, wow. You know, it shouldn’t be that way, but it is, it is. It’s above my pay grade. I don’t know how to change human behavior. I do know how to get a fridge and put attractive beverages

Rich Ziade: Look, I, I, I think, I think what we’re saying is less and less shocking. It was shocking a year and a half ago. It’s less shocking now. The pandemic’s in the rear view mirror to a large extent.

And I think we’re realizing first off, how much we need it. Like we need to connect with other people. That’s real. I get the convenience of just being in your shorts on a Friday.

Paul Ford: everybody’s excited to go to the dentist these days.

Rich Ziade: Everybody’s excited to get outta the house, man. So there is that. Um, we’re looking forward to it.

We’re gonna invite people. Well, there will be a big welcome [00:12:00] party in New York City when we, we, when we open it up, it’s not gonna be about us tweeting a photo of the office. We’re gonna actually welcome people in and we’re looking forward to it.

Paul Ford: and then if, if we’re true to form, we’ll, we’ll close the office down and launch it again.

Six months later.

Rich Ziade: we’ll throw a party. Welcome everyone, and then move

Paul Ford: to be clear in in, in the great tradition of this podcast being about a vaporware product and a company that doesn’t exist, there’s no lease. We haven’t even picked a neighborhood. Let’s end on that. How are we gonna pick a neighborhood? If you’re not in New York City, you don’t know how important this is,

Rich Ziade: It’s a big deal. Um,

Paul Ford: are we gonna go back to Union Square, like with the agency? You know, cuz that’s like, that’s like kind of where the startups were nine years ago. know if it

Rich Ziade: I don’t think Brooklyn should be off the table.

Paul Ford: Okay, interesting. Yeah. But you know what, I’ll tell you what. It’s hard to get ’em out to br Well, here’s what’s tricky.

We threw our party and everybody was like, oh boy. Wow. Manhattan, that is [00:13:00] on a, on a weekday night. That’s a, that’s a lot for me coming in from Brooklyn.


Everybody’s working at home.

Rich Ziade: Everybody’s working at. think we can get people to come out and we aren’t, we aren’t an enterprise play. We can say that without, I mean, we can say that unequivocally we’ve shifted from being enterprise to more

Paul Ford: Yeah. But I’ll tell you, I gotta. I’d rather do Manhattan than like Dumbo, like the quasi Manhattan. yeah. If we’re gonna do, if we do Brooklyn, it’s gotta be something like Goads or someplace a little weird.

Rich Ziade: Dumbo’s to

Paul Ford: I don’t wanna do proxy, A big

Rich Ziade: dump on Dumbo, but it’s, that’s not.

Paul Ford: interesting.

I don’t wanna do proxy Manhattan. It’s gotta be Brooklyn.

Rich Ziade: there’s also one choo train that barely like dips into

Paul Ford: Dumbo,

Rich Ziade: and then you gotta walk the

Paul Ford: All right. So not that, but this is a big conversation, which

Rich Ziade: a big one.

Paul Ford: think absolutely no one listen cares about. However,

Rich Ziade: It, it’s what makes this more and more real. Uh, yes, but no. I mean, I don’t know if they cared about the last one either. So we’re okay. Fair

Paul Ford: enough. I would say, uh, [00:14:00] I think downtown, that’s where the big companies are.

Rich Ziade: Sure

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: Alright. Uh, have a lovely week, Paul. Get that Real Estate li listing. Uh,

Paul Ford: well the great thing about office is, is you don’t have to, they just send them to you

Rich Ziade: Boy, do they? Yeah. There’s a lot of New York real estate

Paul Ford: One New York realtor finds out who you are and that you might be in a position to run an office. That’s it for life. Yeah, I will be

Rich Ziade: all, it never

Paul Ford: ends. I will be cremated and I will still be receiving information on 3000 square feet to just open up in Midtown Well, alright, Richard, that’s a board, that’s the ABOARD podcast. If you wanna check us out, check us out at aboard on Twitter or send us an email hello@aboard.com.

Rich Ziade: Have a lovely week.

Paul Ford: Bye. [00:15:00]