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Ad Agency VB&P Houses Startup Talent for $10 a Year

To celebrate its 10th anniversary and reinforce company culture, Venables Bell & Partners recently chose four entrepreneurs and creatives to share office space in their San Francisco headquarters for a year. Meet the lucky winners here.

Ad Agency VB&P Houses Startup Talent for $10 a Year

Paul Venables has long prided himself on creating an agency with “heart.” A champion of engendering office culture deeper than a veneer of pizza Fridays and foosball tables, Venables, executive creative director and founder of Venables Bell & Partners, wanted to communicate his shop’s principles to the world outside of its San Francisco office while simultaneously commemorating the shop’s 10 year anniversary.

Team discussions and rounds of brainstorming coalesced into an office sharing contest that was an open call for local entrepreneurs to rent working room for the symbolically nominal cost of $10 for a year in VB&P’s office located in swanky downtown Union Square.

The idea of startup incubation and creative cohabitation is certainly in practice in the tech world–most recently and most highly-profiled with Google giving 22,000 square feet of its New York headquarters to Cornell University for five-and-a-half years. Though Google would unquestionably be a veritable holy ground for any startup or budding tech developer, agencies–including Wieden+Kennedy and BBH–are putting their own spin on the overall concept of integrating startup talent and other outside creative and business influences. Venables argues such an opening of arms is increasingly important to the structure (or sometimes lack there of) of creative shops.

“Agencies are sort of amorphous–they grow and change and adapt both in terms of people and skill sets,” he says. “And agency culture is generally about where is the next idea coming from and getting people to talk and share and be a crucible of ideas. I think it’s ideal for startups and entrepreneurs to step into that environment.”

VB&P’s cheeky Craigslist ad, posted early last December, drew an overwhelming response, but Venables says he and his crew were looking for something specific. “Throughout the process it became really clear that we were attracted to good souls–we basically asked, who are the people we want to hang out with?”

Meet the four winners who are doing just that with VB&P staffers, and find out how they’re using their almost-rent-free year in the Q&As below:

Tricia Compas-Markman, founder and CEO of DayOne Response, Inc.

Tell us about your company.
DayOne Response is saving lives in disaster areas worldwide with the DayOne Waterbag, a solution addressing the vital need for clean water. Within hours of a disaster, thirst can force survivors to drink contaminated water. However, with the Waterbag, people are empowered to treat their own water, enough for a family of four for 10 days.

(L-R) Kalon Gutierrez, Luis Garcia, Christian Amundson, Patricia Compas-Markman

Why did you respond to the ad?
Last summer, I participated in the Unreasonable Institute, in Boulder. This institute provided an environment where I worked with other entrepreneurs, shared worked space and living quarters, and cultivated news ideas. Upon returning to San Francisco, I was energized to work in a similar environment. Fortunately, I came upon VB&P’s ad, and knew this was the type of office culture and space I was looking for. Plus, you can’t beat $10/year for a very unique office space in downtown San Francisco.

How are you utilizing the office space?
I start work at my designated desk on floor 2–writing proposals, emailing contacts/partners/customers, and doing research. Then, I generally head up to floor 4 or 5 and work in the side pods to have many of my conversations with potential investors, and with my team and partners to strategize our milestones and next steps in getting the DayOne Waterbag out in the field.

Christian Amundson, filmmaker

Tell us about your company.
AmundsonFilms provides branded narrative and documentary film and video content. I work directly with clients and agencies, brainstorming, collaborating, and honing in on creative and effective ways to tell their stories. And then we saddle up and execute with style and aplomb!

Why did you respond to the ad?
I actually found the posting directly on the VB&P site. I was chasing down the creators of the latest Audi ad and came across the posting which referred to an office space contest in Union Square. Working out of my apartment closet was wearing thin fast, and this posting hit me like a lightning strike–one of those things that you just know is the right step. I literally dropped everything and put together a pitch for the opening. I figured someone’s going to sober up and retract this unbelievable offer. I wanted to catch them before the warm generous feeling faded.

How are you utilizing the office space?
I like to arrive a few hours before everyone else so I can sneak onto one of the super-powered editing bays in the Lumber Yard. There are some talented folks in the office and they’ve been super generous with their time, answering questions and even contributing their talents to my projects. Sometimes I stay very late–knowing there’s a ticking clock on the privilege of being here pushes me to make the most of my time.

Kalon Gutierrez and Luis Garcia, co-founders and CEO and CCO, respectively, of Schoolbags for Kids

Tell us about your company.
Kalon: Schoolbags for Kids launched around August of last year, and it’s based on Luis’ trip to 13 countries. We worked together at Ralph Lauren fragrances so we’ve known each other in the luxury arena.

Luis: Yeah, I needed a career break after 20 years of working for brands like L’Oreal and Ralph Lauren fragrances, and I really wanted to make time to volunteer with children. I started with an organization in India that built orphanages for girls. Working with them, I saw the need for school supplies–they would share a whittled down one-inch pencil and use every inch of white paper in a notebook. I was inspired by what Blake [Mycoskie] was doing with TOMS Shoes, and being at a career crossroads myself, I had the idea of why can’t I create a product that with the purchase of it can actually help one of these kids and give them school supplies and a backpack.

Why did you respond to the ad?
Kalon: We get a lot of these types of opportunities passed to us, but we thought this was so innovative and interesting for a few reasons. We loved the idea of a company indirectly incubating other companies, especially companies that have a larger social mission and could be a platform for other companies to follow. There was an article with Paul Venables at the time about his background and some of his thinking when he was starting VB&P, and it really resonated with us personally as far as where we were at with our lifecycle, so we felt a very personal draw to it.

How are you utilizing the office space?
Kalon: VB&P has been nice enough to allow us to use their resources such as their printer. We just had a celebrity event in Los Angeles and some of the collateral we printed we actually collaborated with VB&P’s creative team to make it look better. We have a lot of meetings here as well, from board members to potential investors to retail partners and manufacturers. So to have a space in downtown San Francisco that’s so buttoned-up and professional helps us to convey our substance and credibility to these other parties.

About the author

KC works covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America" where he was the social media producer.