Jenny Haeg is Disrupting Each Day

Jenny Haeg Custom Spaces COPYRIGHT Laura Kudritzki The Registry real estate San Francisco

Helping startups find a nest to hatch their ideas.

THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED IN THE ‘Q’ – THE REGISTRY’S PRINT PUBLICATION – IN JANUARY 2014

[dropcap]”C[/dropcap]ommercial real estate is all I have ever done,” says Jenny Haeg, founder and president of Custom Spaces. Her commercial real estate firm focuses on Bay Area tech companies and startups such as Square, Airbnb, Uber, Obvious/Medium, Spotify and Instacart.

But Haeg almost missed out on the industry. The Ventura native was attending the University of Southern California when she was offered an internship with Cushman & Wakefield. After going through the interview, she turned it down, “because the job sounded boring and awful.” But like any good brokerage, the company kept after her, because the leadership saw something in Haeg. They were right. She came on board and soon realized she had found her niche.

“I think that the coolest part of my job is that you get some of the smartest people in the world. That’s what my day consists of,” she says.

Before founding her own startup, Haeg spent more than a decade in commercial real estate in the Bay Area, including seven years with The CAC Group (part of CBRE as of December 6), a San Francisco-based commercial real estate services firm focusing on tenant representation, project leasing, investment sales and property management.

Q: How is Custom Spaces different from other, more traditional commercial brokerage houses?

JH: What differentiates our firm is our 100 percent focus on startups, tech companies and VC firms, as well as our approach with the companies that we work with.

We structured our firm to enable us to work with companies of all sizes, from two founders and an idea, to a company like Airbnb that is redefining the travel experience for millions of people around the world and expanding internationally. We love nothing more than working with a small company that has a world changing idea, and supporting them and helping them any way that we can as they grow.

We’re also unique in the type and breadth of services we provide, and our ability to leverage technology to deliver those services. For example, we recently launched a Web site at CustomSpaces.com that allows office managers and other real estate executives at companies to browse through thousands of beautiful office space photos, filter those photos by category (kitchen, boardroom, etc.) and connect with the vendors that created those projects.

Q: How many employees does your company have and what are your growth projections?

JH: There are currently seven people working at the company, and we are looking to expand over the next couple of years.

Q: TechCrunch recently described you as Houzz for startups in San Francisco. Is your focus to expand into offering additional services directly, or will you partner with certain service providers and expand your offering that way?

JH: TechCrunch covered the launch of our CustomSpaces.com site, and our initial focus there was on startups and tech companies in San Francisco, but our long-term goal for the site is to hopefully serve as a resource for the entire community that will allow anyone around the world to find inspiration when building our their office space and to connect with the vendors that can help them build their dream space. A huge part of our goal when building the site was to also allow the artists of our business, the architects, general contractors and other vendors, to showcase their work and share what they’ve created with the broader community, and we look forward to working with them to accomplish that.

Q: As you developed Custom Spaces, when did the company “turn the corner” and make you feel like it was going to become what you had envisioned?

JH: I have been working in commercial real estate for almost 15 years now, and have focused on startups and tech companies for virtually my entire career. As a result, founding and creating Custom Spaces to help broaden the scale and type of services that we can provide in response to the needs that most tech companies and startups have seemed like a natural progression.

Q: Working with startups, while to an outsider may seem extremely appealing, comes with its challenges. Startups could be financially constrained, they may not understand fully what their needs are, landlords may think twice about leasing space to early stage enterprises. How easy is it to work with such clients, and how receptive is the market to their needs.

JH: Working with startups is a lot of fun, and it is extremely energizing and exciting to work alongside some of the best entrepreneurs in the world and see the drive and passion they have for their businesses. However almost all startups face the same type of challenges at some point in their history. The need for flexibility and to conserve as much capital as possible to reinvest into the business are always of utmost importance, and are areas that we place a lot of emphasis on for all of the companies we work with.

Often startups and tech companies are still in massive growth phases, and as a result their financials will look vastly different from older, more established businesses. To help communicate their true value and potential, and what makes them so exciting, we’ve developed a significant amount of experience and expertise explaining their business models to prospective landlords, and breaking down and structuring their financials in ways that make it more obvious to prospective landlords what innovative, fast-growing, and financially solid businesses a lot of our clients are building.

Q: Recently, CoreNet awarded two prominent technology facilities professionals for their work in the industry, and the message from them was clear that tech clients want flexibility and the ability to easily collaborate. How does this translate to specific demands that your clients have.

JH: There is definitely a movement towards a more open, flexible work environment. Embracing the sharing, creative and collaborative culture that most tech companies have, they are moving towards creating offices that allow for this. For example, a lot of companies are moving away from dedicated desks or are choosing desks that employees can move around as needed depending on the project they are working on at the time or the group of people they need to be close to. The idea is that an employee can create a team space at will by moving the desks around to fit the need of the moment.

Q: Today, your focus is primarily on San Francisco, but tech clients’ needs will change with time as they open multiple offices around the Bay Area, so will you look into expanding throughout the region with them as well.

JH: Definitely, we’ve actually recently expanded our business down into the Peninsula specifically to address the needs of tech companies and startups who’d like to open an office there, and are also expanding into New York.

Q: There has been a bit of a backlash against squeezing people into a continuously smaller amount of space. Where is that trending today, and how have you seen those changes exhibit themselves?

JH: People are spending more time in the office than at home these days, so creating a space that feels like home where people are excited to be and are comfortable spending long hours is definitely important. A lot goes into making this happen, such as having an open feeling space where employees never feel isolated but instead feel that they are part of a team, working together. Having a large open kitchen is a big part of creating that feeling. A kitchen in a home is oftentimes the place where everyone comes together to hang out and so recreating that within an office space is becoming more and more important.

Q: Are you optimistic about 2014? Why?

JH: We’re very optimistic about 2014. We think there’s a lot of extremely disruptive, innovative businesses that are growing and being started right now, and we don’t see that stopping any time soon. Custom Spaces will continue to help companies find that special space that allows them to flourish and build upon the unique culture they have already created.

Photography by Laura Kudritzki

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