At GoKart Labs, we’re very intentional about our long-range planning. As far back as 2013, we knew we would be adding new labs to the mix. Don’t get me wrong – Minneapolis is an amazing community for business, with immense local talent and more Fortune 500 companies per capita than nearly anywhere else (Connecticut is #1). But we’ve always looked at geographic expansion as a natural way to attract new talent and cultivate new relationships with people who share our passions and values. It was also our hypothesis that it was important for our culture to grow beyond a midwest-centric mindset. Last year, as our Minneapolis headcount approached about 50 employees, the time felt right to level off on local hires and move forward with launching a second location for all the reasons we knew about… and a few we would soon discover.
In November of 2016, I moved out to Washington D.C. to quietly open a small GoKart office near Dupont Circle. It was more of an exploratory mission than it was a firm planting of a flag. As is “the GoKart way,” we needed to prove (or disprove) our hypothesis before going all-in. We were open to other locations, and if our experience in launching products and companies has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t get too attached to any particular idea before it’s validated.
For several years, GoKart Labs and its spinoff startup The Big Know have been working with D.C.-based clients including AARP and National Geographic, so from a practical standpoint, it certainly made sense to have some of our people closer to them. But we quickly understood an even better reason. Just as NYC is known as a major financial center and Los Angeles is a mecca for the entertainment industry, D.C. boasts an incredibly high concentration of well-educated young people who want to make a difference in the world. On top of that, it’s becoming one of the very best places for entrepreneurs.
Maybe you already know about GoKart Labs’ six core values, and hopefully, you saw our recent investment in Polco. You might also know that we recently launched GoKart Ventures to attract and invest in new digital startups. Given all of those things — plus the addition of some new clients here in the mid-Atlantic region — the choice to plant new roots in the nation’s capital feels absolutely right.
It’s been about eight months and we’re off to a great start. We’ve hired a few people, and one of our Solution Leads in Minneapolis actually relocated out to D.C. to join me in the expansion. I’ve met some fantastic people, and I’ve been extremely impressed with the quality of candidates we’ve been interviewing for new positions. I’m looking forward to the coming months as we further establish our presence here and launch some of the new products we’ve been working on.
Based on our recent experience, here’s some free advice for anyone thinking about expanding their business to a new location.
- Start small, pack light. We opened our office in a co-working space to allow for easy expansion without committing to long-term office expenses. Your new office shouldn’t be an immediate cash-drain on your business, and you should be willing (and able) to pack up and go home if things don’t work out.
- Founder goes first. If you can, start with someone you can trust, someone who knows your company’s culture and can tell your story well. It’s the way to get firm footing quickly without your new office feeling like a lesser satellite. At the same time, let your new office develop its own culture. ABSOLUTELY stay true to your core values, methods, and processes, but be open to new ideas and remember the adage that “all of us are smarter than one of us.”
- Get good at remote meetings. Nothing can feel more isolating than being separated from your team. Invest in good technology solutions and train everyone on the best practices to use when working from alternate locations. This will also help you improve your game when it comes to working remotely with clients, no matter where they may be.
- Plan for frequent travel. From a culture perspective, we think it’s important for everyone on the leadership team in Minneapolis to spend time in D.C. so new employees get to know each and every one of them. And, of course, everyone in D.C. will spend quite a bit of time at our GoKart HQ in Minneapolis for additional collaboration and connection.
- Enjoy the process. Starting something from nothing and seeing it grow is one of the most rewarding professional experiences you can have. Do use that positivity and energy to breathe new life into your business and invigorate your clients.
If you have additional thoughts or questions about GoKart Labs and/or our expansion, I’d love to hear from you. Email me at [email protected]