Chicago Creative Space taps into company culture when assessing workspace

What’s in a space? For startups, everything. Finding the right space and culture can make or break a growing company and if you want to lure in the best talent around, your office is going to have to stand out from the rest, especially in Chicago.

Chicago Creative Space is on a mission to ignite conversation about the importance of finding the right workspace and how to best build and maintain company culture within it. With video content showcasing some of the best workspaces Chicago has to offer and planned events to create dialogue, Chicago Creative Space aims to be the go-to online resource for companies looking for answers to some of their biggest space-related questions.

We sat down with founder Max Chopovsky, who shared the story of how he married his professional work with his creative passion to create the new venture, along with some of his personal advice to startups looking for a new space for their company.



What is the backstory behind Chicago Creative Space?

I’m a real estate broker. My entire life my jobs have been very quantitative-based, very left brain-based, so when I was in school I studied management information systems and finance. When I graduated, I went to work for GE in their management leadership program on the IT side and I got my Six Sigma certification.

When I came to Chicago in ’05 and got into the real estate field I was again doing a lot of analysis -- reading through leases and putting together financial analysis for my clients. It was all very quantitative-type work.

My passion has always been the creative side of things. I’ve been playing music all my life, I’ve been DJing for 15 years, I co-published a book of poetry with my grandfather (we translated it from Russian to English -- I’m originally from Ukraine), I have directed some music videos. I love doing that kind of stuff because it allows me to tell a story creatively, through video or through music or whatever the case may be.

Last year I was trying to figure out how I can combine my passion with my career. The challenge is that in most cases you don’t really put music and videos and real estate in the same sentence. In real estate you’re negotiating leases, you’re finding companies space, and some brokers are a little bit more creative than others but at the end of the day that’s what it comes down to.

I wanted to figure out how I could add my passion to my career. My thought was, Why don’t I just make videos of office spaces? That’s cool, but I wanted to add more value than just filming videos of office spaces and what I realized was that culture is incredibly important within a company. When it’s done right, it makes that company a phenomenal place to work and it makes it so much easier for them to recruit talent to operate and succeed.

That company’s office space has become top of mind for anyone that wants to create and maintain a great culture. The space ends up being a function of the culture, but it also, if done correctly, ends up reinforcing and almost amplifying the culture. Office space, which was before just a lease expiration that you had to deal with, that you didn’t want to deal with, and just a place where your employees come together to do some work in their offices and cubes, all the sudden now is sort of in the spotlight.

It’s become the face of the company to any stakeholder that matters -- to a client, an investor, a prospective employee -- and it’s the place where your existing employees are supposed to do great work, to innovate and solve problems and actually enjoy doing that. People are paying attention to it now.

I wanted to figure out how I could highlight some of the coolest office spaces in Chicago and help those companies raise the visibility of their culture, because they would love to share it. Not only does it help the bigger companies, but it also helps the entrepreneurs who are either moving out of incubators or are in somebody’s apartment and don’t have to deal with real estate.



Those entrepreneurs usually just care about one thing, which is growing their business. At the top of their list is raising capital and growing their team, so real estate is the last thing on their list -- until it becomes the first thing on their list. At that point they’re looking for resources anywhere they can find them. More often than not, they know somebody who knows a broker and they just say, “Well why don’t you find me some space?” thinking that it’s that easy.

We had a launch party on February 7th and Troy Henikoff was one of my panelists and Troy said, “At my first company I built, the culture was fantastic: everyone got along, it was a great environment. We thought that with the next company we would build we’d just have to find a cool space and throw a bunch of people in it and they’d get along. That didn’t happen. Culture is such a fluid and unpredictable and intangible part of your company that it’s really hard to get it right.”

The inspiration for Chicago Creative Space is for companies that have gotten it right to share what they’ve done with younger companies and really to provide them a set of resources for their organizations.

When did you know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

I’m a director at Cushman & Wakefield with a team of 12 people and we’re a $2 billion company so it’s one of the last things you might think of when you think “startup” -- it’s an established global organization. I’ve heard the term “intrapreneur” used before and that’s how I would describe myself. I’m a full-time employee at Cushman & Wakefield -- I have my career in real estate but I’m starting this within the company and using my own funds for it. To that extent, it is an entrepreneurial venture.

I think I’ve always had the entrepreneurship bug. I was an entrepreneurship minor at Miami of Ohio, which is where I went to school. I’ve always found it really exciting how somebody could take something that they really feel strongly about and put everything they have into growing that concept into something great.

The reason that I just haven’t done anything until now is because I just hadn’t found something that I felt so strongly about. I wouldn’t say that I’m solving any world problems here, but I saw that I had these creative passions and I wanted to find an outlet for them that let me combine it with my job. I’ve always been fascinated by entrepreneurship and I’ve always loved the concept of it and as our community starts to grow I’ve really started to get involved and talk to a lot of our entrepreneurs in Chicago.

Last summer I took a couple of trips abroad and I had some time to think. I just realized that life is too short to not do something that you really love to do. Who wants to have regrets?

I have a great career, so instead of taking the full immersion approach and quitting my job and do the Chicago Creative Space full time, I decided to combine the career I love with my creative passion. Last fall, as I was coming up with this concept, I really dove headfirst into Chicago Creative Space and said, “You know what? If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it right. I’m going to do it the only way I know how, which is 100 percent.”



Last summer was when I started kicking around the idea of how can I do something that combines my passion and my work. I started working on it really seriously around the September time frame and we started shooting in November and December and launched on February 7th.

What are some changes you’d like to see in the entrepreneurial scene today?

In general I think we have a great community. I think that it’s a much more closely-knit entrepreneurial community than some of the bigger ones. Because we’re so small, if you know a few people you probably, through two or three degrees, know everyone in the scene in Chicago today.

What I’d love to see is more funding come our way. We have a few VCs that are starting to open shops in Chicago, but some of the big ones are strictly on the West Coast or the East Coast. I think that, as a whole, we could use a boost in visibility, in that we’re making top 10 lists now and people know who we are and things like that, but a lot of entrepreneurs are still headed to the West Coast because, frankly, they can get better valuations there. Some of the VCs are a little more hands-off so they give them money and let them go do what they need to do.

As far as Chicago, I think that we have a very different Midwestern work ethic and mentality to where we create companies that solve problems and that are sustainable and we’re willing to help each other and be resources for each other.

What I’d love to see is, on a macro scale, for our community to grow, for more entrepreneurs to come to Chicago or come back if they’re from here so they can see that we may not have the weather or the lifestyle of Palo Alto, but our lifestyle is just fine. We have a great mix of work and play, some great amenities in the city and just a great scene, which I think is going to continue to grow.

What advice would you give to any entrepreneurs out there looking to build a great workspace?

Real estate is a question that nobody wants to deal with, especially entrepreneurs because it interferes with their business, it costs them money, and there’s a lot of players involved in any kind of transaction. When an entrepreneur is starting out, my suggestion is to have as little space as you can get away with, and stay as flexible as possible.

When an entrepreneur is in an incubator, they typically can leave the incubator whenever they want, but when they move into an office space they have to sign up for longer term leases because, for a shorter term lease, the landlord isn’t going to give them a lot of money to reconfigure the space or refresh the space.

What I would advise entrepreneurs to do is to bootstrap to the extent possible when it comes to space. Have as little space as possible for as long as you can, try to find a sublease if possible, because those are typically cheaper. Yes, they are usually as is and you’re not going to get a ton of money to refresh the space, if any, but it lets you keep your costs down in the short term.

Even if you take a sublease space or a direct lease of a completely open space, there are so many different ways to make it your own without spending a ton of money. Let’s be honest, a startup that’s trying to raise their seed round of capital is not going to have the same budget as a Groupon or a GrubHub, so for them it’s about figuring out how to make the space their own without spending a ton of dough and it’s still possible.

Be as flexible as possible and find a space that’s as open as possible so that, because you’re still small, your employees can collaborate and innovate and still feel like part of a family. Have some offices and small call rooms that they can use if they do need some privacy and they do need to get away. Make sure your furniture is cheap and modular, so you can rearrange it if you need one big table for a board meeting or take a bunch of smaller tables for a training session or something like that.



Align yourself with people that understand the space. If I were to be a shameless self-promoter I would say call somebody like me, who works with startups and understands what they need when they need it and how to soften the blow of moving out of your apartment or finally moving out of an incubator space and all the sudden not having that kind of culture and energy because you’re on your own.

It’s absolutely critical, and most people don’t realize it is until they’ve moved into a space and all the sudden it’s quiet and you don’t have an Intelligentsia in your lobby and all these people running around and you don’t have the energy. Most people don’t realize how critical it is to continue to build their culture as they move into new space.

What is your idea of happiness?

My idea of happiness is getting up every day and being excited about what you’re going to do. It’s pretty simple. On a professional level, that would be it: getting excited about what you’re going to do that day and, at the end of the day, feeling good about what you accomplished.

I think as people get older, they start to realize that the best satisfaction that you can get out of life is to make other people’s lives better. It may not be all of them, but I think that’s probably the rationale behind a lot of the people who join MeetAdvisors: they love teaching people and they love making other people’s lives better.

From my perspective, personally I want to help as many people as possible. I obviously want to make some money too, but I think this concept helps me to do that while really genuinely helping some of the groups that I care about, which are the startups in Chicago and our Creative Class companies.

Obviously, it goes without saying, that my idea of happiness is being healthy and having a great group of friends and being close with my family and having a great social network. What I’ve found is that when I’m doing something that I love time just seems to fly, like when I’m editing video.



I literally sit down on a Saturday at eight o’clock in the morning to edit video, and the next thing I know it’s dark outside and I’m starving and I have to go to the bathroom. That’s when I know that I’m doing something I love and that’s what I want to be doing all my life: stuff that I enjoy, stuff that helps people, stuff that obviously can make me some money, but at the same time doing what I’m passionate about is my idea of happiness.

What does 2013 have in store for Chicago Creative Space?

That’s a great question because as soon as I had my launch party, I woke up the next morning with two thoughts in my head. One: That was really cool and two: What’s next? I want to grow the community. I really want to have Chicago Creative Space be the top of mind when people think of culture, space, and innovation within that realm. I want Chicago Creative Space to be the first resource that they think about.

For now it’s a set of resources, which are obviously going to continue to grow, whether it’s videos with architects and space planners and furniture vendor thought leaders, as well as videos with the companies, but what I’d love to have happen with Chicago Creative Space is conversations to start without me being the catalyst for those conversations.

When I post a video of a company’s space, that starts a conversation on the website. People start commenting, they start sharing, liking, Tweeting, things like that. I want people to start conversations without a video being posted. So if somebody says, “You know what? I have 5,000 feet, I want to take 5,000 more. I don’t even know where to begin. I’m going to go to Chicago Creative Space.”

They’re going to go to the site and they’re going to post a comment on the blog, or put something up on the site, and people are going to be regularly going through the site and see that this person needs help and be able to help them. And that’s a conversation starting without me starting it, that’s the point when the community is thriving on its own, when it’s growing organically without me having to feed it.

To be clear, there will be videos as promised every three weeks of creative spaces and definitely on a regular basis of different architects and things like that but I want this to be a community of resources that aren’t just limited to the videos.

The first part of what’s next is I want to continue to grow the site. The second part is that I’m also going to continue to have events like the launch party, because despite the blizzard that we had outside, I had over 100 people show up. That was pretty incredible when walking wasn’t even an option that night -- the snow was going sideways.

Because I had so many people show up to see the video, to hear what the panelists had to say, that told me that not only does this matter but it matters a lot and people recognize that. With that being the case, I know that I can do this even bigger. I want to plan another event sometime in the near future where we’re going to have more people, maybe multiple panels in another really cool space so that I can continue to raise awareness for both Chicago Creative Space and what it actually stands for, which is the culture and space connection and why it’s so critical to be able to get it right.


Chicago Creative Space Introduction from ChicagoCreativeSpace on Vimeo.

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