Read and watch a recap of Scrapping the Roadmap: Navigating Products Through Change, the latest in BrainStation’s Thought Leadership Series.
For more than a century, the office furniture industry has worked the same way: Companies have had to navigate furniture dealers, unclear pricing, large markups, and a complicated delivery and installation process.
New York-based startup Bureau is working to change that. Bureau sells directly to its customers and offers free shipping, space planning, and assembly.
We spoke to Greg Hayes, the C0-Founder and CEO of Bureau (and BrainStation alum) to find out more about his company’s mission, the importance of product management, and what makes a great office space.
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BrainStation: Where did the inspiration for Bureau come about?
Hayes: I’d spent most of my career in the corporate real estate world but transitioned into the world of “Proptech” in 2016. I was amazed at the rapid pace of change hitting the traditional real estate landscape, but couldn’t believe that such a large (and problematic) section of the industry hadn’t been disrupted at all. Bureau was the result of a realization that there was an opportunity to use technology to fix how companies experience office furniture.
You previously worked at Breather; how did that experience influence the founding of Bureau?
Breather was a great experience. Beyond being a real estate technology company, the size of Breather’s portfolio meant that we were also essentially running a furniture procurement business too. I witnessed first hand the expensive and complicated nature of furnishing offices and saw that there was no good solution available.
What would you say are some of the biggest challenges facing entrepreneurs today?
In our case, we’re operating in a very traditional B2B market, and it’s certainly a challenge to compete with businesses that have been controlling the industry for over a century. I think this is a problem that every entrepreneur faces – it’s very difficult to get people to change their behavior and take a risk on your new solution.
Can you tell us a bit more about your day-to-day activities as the CEO of a growing startup?
My days consist of an interesting combination of things that people traditionally associate with CEOs (meeting with investors, hiring, long-term planning) and “in-the-weeds” tasks (assembling furniture, mopping the showroom floors, meeting with potential customers). I also spend a huge amount of time refining our operations and supply chain strategies, which are essential to making sure our customers get their furniture on time.
Bureau offers an end-to-end service for companies looking to furnish their office space. How do digital initiatives – user experience design for example – play in a role in the company’s offerings?
We’re creating a digital experience that has never before existed in this industry. Our competitors often don’t offer much more than a landing page, so something as simple as our e-commerce experience is a huge step in the right direction. What will be more exciting is the customer’s ability to easily manage all of their office furniture inventory from a centralized platform on Bureau’s site. It will completely change the way businesses interact with office furniture.
What do you think makes a great office space?
A typical office employee spends upwards of 30 percent of their life in the office, so it’s important to make it feel like a home away from home. Access to light, soft seating, collaboration zones, and of course beautiful, comfortable furnishings are the most important physical components, but these things mean nothing without a great company culture!
What first attracted you to the Product Management course at BrainStation?
I was working at a large fund in a very traditional industry at the time. Many of my friends had begun tech careers, and some even had their own startups. I was itching to make a career move, and Brainstation’s product management course was the perfect platform to get me started.
What skills were you hoping to learn?
At that point in my career I knew nothing about working at a technology company, so first and foremost I wanted to learn the absolute basics. Beyond that, my goal was to develop a framework for launching a product. My ultimate goal was to start my own company, and though I didn’t have a specific idea in mind at that time, I knew that BrainStation could provide me with the skills I would need to take an idea from conception to execution.
How have the skills and concepts covered in the course impacted you and your team’s day-to-day work?
I’m able to communicate with my team using technical language and concepts that would have taken me years to grasp without the product management course. There’s certainly a basic level of knowledge that’s expected of me, so whether I’m assisting with a wireframe exercise or simply discussing product strategy, my team appreciates that I get what they’re doing and how they’re trying to get there.
Was the learning experience different at BrainStation than your previous education? How so?
Two things stood out about the learning experience at BrainStation. The first is that I was able to do it while working full time, which was a completely different experience than the immersive experience of University. The second is that the group work is set up in such a way that everyone participates and benefits. As anyone who’s been through the traditional education system knows, group work typically turns into one or two people doing all of the work. This was never an issue at BrainStation.
In your opinion, what is the most important skill an entrepreneur can have?
I think it’s less about skill and more about attitude. There’s a fantastic book called Grit by Angela Duckworth, in which she argues that people with incredible persistence and passion are far more likely to succeed in whatever they endeavor. I think this is especially true of entrepreneurs. Starting a business is harder than you expect, and without passion and persistence, it’s even harder.
In general, what skills do you think will be most important for the future?
The ability to think critically and creatively will continue to be incredibly important in the future. Problems (and their solutions) are only becoming more complicated, and employers need to see that you have the ability to keep up.
Speaking of the future, what do you envision for Bureau? What does the future have in store?
Bureau is completely changing the way companies experience office furniture. We’re applying the same pillars that consumers look for in their day to day lives – ease, value, and (increasingly) flexibility – to furnishing an office. We envision a world where every furniture requirement, whether it be purchasing items, reporting damage, or recycling used pieces, is managed with a single click.
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