Jeff Bezos, Ray Ozzie and Pierre Omidyar on Workspace

Continuing from yesterday’s look at the soundtrack to the creation of Lotus Notes, we can look more at the physical space where it was created. For contrast, I also throught I’d start looking at some of the responses I’d gotten from Jeff Bezos about the same questions.

Interestingly, when it came to the music or movies that were playing while he was first creatiang, Jeff’s answer was succinct: “I don’t remember.” Maybe I might have done better to focus on what books he was reading. But when it came to describing the actual workspace, Jeff remembered a lot more details:

A garage enclosed so it was converted into a room. Whiteboard with long list of priorities — didn’t change much. Door desks. Costco swivel chairs. Big orange extension cords draped across the floor just about everywhere.

That sense of a chaotic but comfortable space is echoed in Ray Ozzie’s description of the early offices at Lotus:

it began in a small office (actually an old home converted to an office) we rented in 12/84 in Littleton, MA.  The office was mainly just one big room for the three of us.  I founded it in December, and my co-founders Tim Halvorsen and Len Kawell joined me from DEC in January.

We used IBM PC AT’s as our dev systems, which were released just as we were starting to work.  Even though our office was Spartan, we bought the best hardware available and tricked it out as best we could:

  • a “massive” second monitor (“Genius” I think) – 1024-by-something monochrome portrait mode
  • a removable iomega Bernoulli disk drive, so we could do builds, archive things, bring them to Cambridge where our partner lotus was located, etc
  • we replaced the crystals on the motherboards to get 8mhz out of the computers, rather than the stock 6mhz
  • sytek 2mbps (I think) LAN card
  • a state-of-the-art newfangled “laser printer” – an apple laserwriter – that we all shared

You get the idea.

We went to a used furniture store and bought the CHEAPEST crappiest (but strong) fold-out tables, with strong/comfortable chairs.

We spared no expense on massive whiteboards that covered the walls.

Pierre Omidyar‘s description of the workspace where eBay was created is no less evocative:

Definite clutter. I worked primarily out of our spare bedroom that I used as an office. I had some sort of computer desk that had multiple Macs in various states of use or disrepair. I also used a Mac laptop, a Powerbook Duo among other models I think. Later I very reluctantly switched to a Toshiba laptop and Windows, because the Mac OS wasn’t keeping up with the cutting edge back then. (A non-Mac hiatus that lasted until 2001 I think.) I had a wireless internet radio thing hooked up to it so I could access the Internet mobile. I used post-it notes on the monitor of my desktop Mac or in the laptop, but no whiteboards. It wasn’t until I got an office that I started using a whiteboard. I like whiteboards, but the markers smell funny.

In each case, it’s gratifying how familiar this combination of clutter and creativity feels to any of us who’ve ever pulled an all-nighter to get a product launched.