Optimizely Blasting Off in San Francisco

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The company’s sci-fi aesthetic creates a vision of its own future.


By Nancy Amdur

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]fter just four years, Optimizely’s business is taking off, a fact reinforced by the San Francisco-based startup’s rocket ship-shaped office reception desk.

“We were a small company not too long ago,” said Lauren Puff, Optimizely’s operations manager.

The desk, with accents that light up in the company’s signature blue, is just one feature providing the cool factor favored by many high-tech companies.

“They are an innovative forward-thinking young tech company and have a sci-fi aesthetic, so [the design] is minimal modernism with a sci-fi technological focus,” said Zachary Meade, the lead designer on the project for Design Blitz, a San Francisco-based architecture and interior design firm.

[quote]“A really cool office space can be inspiring and has a certain ‘wow’ factor.” Helen Phung, Optimizely[/quote]

Founded by former Google product managers Dan Siroker and Pete Koomen, Optimizely provides A/B testing of Web sites, allowing clients to find how different versions of their web pages affect performance. With investors such as Benchmark, Bain Capital Ventures and Google Ventures, Optimizely boasts more than 6,000 customers worldwide, including GoDaddy, Foot Locker and LexisNexis.

Designers kept the burgeoning tech company’s creativity in mind when building out the space.

Housed in a converted warehouse at 631 Howard St., in the heart of the city’s vital South of Market (SoMa) district, Optimizely’s 37,000 square foot office design incorporates the building’s industrial roots with an environment that inspires innovation and collaboration.


Centric General Contractors brought the design ideas to life. Exposed concrete, beamed ceilings and wood paneling combine in an open floor plan with a center atrium giving unimpeded views of each of the office’s three floors.

It was important to “develop connectivity between the floors,” said architect Robert Remiker, whose Berkeley, Calif.-based namesake architecture firm worked on the project.

Using sustainable materials and forming a comfortable work environment also were key. For example, “we played off the concrete construction of the building and added a bamboo wall to counterpoint the hard and concrete surfaces. So you have surfaces that are rugged and add something with refinement to it,” Remiker said.

To continue the sci-fi theme, Design Blitz created a pattern of diagonal slashes on a boardroom wall to expose underlying concrete. A similar feature is included in the cafeteria. Modern furniture throughout, supplied by One WorkPlace, is covered in Optimizely’s blue along with charcoal gray and a vibrant green, providing a relaxing but lively atmosphere.

Ensuring that employees working in groups of various sizes could easily find a place to meet up was a main goal in designing the space, where the company moved in July of last year, said Puff, who worked with designers on the project.

“We wanted to have enough areas where teams of four or 20 had space to go and collaborate, and we wanted to make sure it was flexible so we could change the space as needed,” she said.

The office includes eight conference rooms, six smaller breakout rooms and one boardroom.

Conference rooms—which carry outer space-themed names such as Galaxy and Asteroid—have audio-visual capabilities to easily connect with the company’s overseas office in Amsterdam, said Helen Phung, a company spokesperson.

Further, because Optimizely employees can be mobile with their laptops, alternative spaces and furniture are provided, such as lounge areas with oversize chairs facing each other over a coffee table.

“To be able to leave your desk and have the option of moving around helps [people] stay inspired and stimulated,” Phung said.

In the tech industry, collaboration is important, hence the need for an open floor plan and few doors, Meade said.

“If you look back 20 years, the majority of space was private offices. Now the majority of rooms are not enclosed,” he said. “[Tech companies] want an open environment that allows for small collaboration zones.”

To further encourage interaction, the cafeteria features an open kitchen, a family-style table and gaming area.

Other Optimizely office amenities include bicycle storage and built-in showers, added with bike commuters in mind.

However, the company chose its new location not just for the interesting design possibilities, but, more practically, for its close proximity to transportation and downtown amenities such as restaurants, along with the ability to expand, Phung said.

At the end of 2013 Optimizely occupied the basement, main floor and mezzanine of the five-level building. In March it took over another floor, gaining 20,000 square feet with space for 10 conference rooms and 100 desks.

“The idea was we would have a space we could scale up to 400 folks in the next few years,“ she said.

Optimizely’s snazzy office space might attract potential employees, but Phung, who has a background working at startups, notes that the people you work with and company mission tend to trump design. Although, she added, “A really cool office space can be inspiring and has a certain ‘wow’ factor.”

Photography by Jasper Sanidad

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