In the footsteps of Web forefathers
Stanford-based start-up heads to office complex steeped in Valley history
Property manager Bob Golzen has seen about 50 start-up companies pass through Bayshore Business Plaza, an office complex near U.S. Highway 101 in Mountain View.
Now, Increo Solutions is ready to become No. 51.
The firm's three Stanford University-student founders are graduating in June. As they move out of dorm rooms, they are also relocating their nascent start-up to roomier digs.
"It's a nice, big area. I feel like I could jump and move around," lead engineer Ray Thang said of the 600-square-foot office the company will move into next month.
They will replace a 2002 start-up, which is upgrading to a bigger office across the parking lot, Golzen said.
One day, Increo may follow that trajectory, perhaps even growing to the size of Internet behemoth Google, whose headquarters lie about a mile down the road.
Founded last year by Rebecca Illowsky, Kimber Lockhart and Jeff Seibert (with Thang as the first non-founding member), Increo Solutions incorporated in March.
The group engineered a "soft launch" of its first software product, a collaborative document editing service called Backboard, to Stanford students in late April. The early launch was to work out preliminary kinks and software glitches.
Since then, the group announced seed funding from venture-capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson and geared up for a hard launch to the public at large on May 15.
On launch day, the group gathered in the makeshift office they have used all spring — a cramped conference room in Stanford's student-union building.
A heat wave was cooking the Peninsula, and they sat in stifling air with the lights off and windows propped open.
Lockhart gulped Diet Dr. Pepper to stay cool. Thang distracted himself by listening to theme music from online games on his iPod as he worked on fixing bugs on the site.
Despite the temperature, spirits were high.
The influential technology blog TechCrunch had posted a small write-up on Backboard just after midnight, triggering a flurry of activity on the site.
"'I need this. Please,'" Lockhart read aloud. It was one of a handful of e-mails that had arrived in the last few hours, asking to be a beta tester of Increo's other software programs.
Seibert, clad in jogging shorts, said he wasn't tired even though he'd been awake until 3 a.m. addressing bugs found by users the TechCrunch posting had generated.
Rather, he was energized by the instant feedback and the race to improve the site. Backboard's Stanford launch — a mix of distributing fliers and reaching out on Facebook — had drawn 961 users in a few weeks, but activity eventually flat-lined.
The TechCrunch posting and others across the blogosphere in the last few hours had caused activity to sky-rocket. Within two weeks, 12,500 unique visitors had created 1,200 backboards, Lockhart later said.
The team's optimism about the attention that morning was tempered only by the frustration of space constraints.
Ideally, Thang would have had a row of monitors set up to help with debugging.
But the students lacked space and manpower to haul computers back and forth when they cleared out the public room at day's end, Lockhart said.
Instead, Illowsky's four-year-old laptop — missing a hinge — sat nearby, painted with flowers and the cursive script of a teenager, ready to work as a tester computer for older software.
Meanwhile, Seibert's phone rang and he sprang to answer it, talking loudly because the room got poor reception. His voice cut through a message Lockhart was leaving on a reporter's voice mail, part of the new press outreach.
"I'm excited to have multiple rooms [in the new office]," Lockhart dead-panned when she hung up.
Having a mailing address will also be a nice perk, Seibert said. The group can't receive mail on campus because envelopes not personally addressed are returned-to-sender, a policy intended to encourage enterprising students to buy additional P.O. boxes, he said.
"There's an interesting tension between academia and start-ups on campus," Lockhart said. "Your dorm contract says you can't run a start-up out of your dorm room."
That tension is ironic, given the on-campus services for budding entrepreneurs. It was the Stanford Technology Ventures Program — run out of the engineering school and staffed partially by venture-capitalists-cum-lecturers — that groomed Lockhart and Seibert to handle launching a start-up, they said.
The two took the program's classes and became organizers of the "Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders" lecture series, through which they met key Silicon Valley players. They knew who to contact to discuss venture funding and who to ask for advice based on those contacts, they said.
Despite these supports, Increo must get its mail delivered to Illowsky's childhood home in Cupertino.
"Then Becca comes in with the mail, and we have mail day. It's actually kind of fun," Seibert said.
But fast-forward a few weeks and the group will graduate — Lockhart and Seibert receiving bachelor's degrees and Thang and Illowsky master's degrees — all in computer science.
They will finally be able to concentrate on the business full-time, Lockhart said, adding that pretending to go to the bathroom when she gets an important phone call during class is growing old.
They will move into Bayshore Business Plaza. For $2.15 per square foot monthly, the group will have an office with three rooms, fast Internet and shared copying services. Nestled into the two-story office park are plenty of other start-ups, a koi pond and a cafeteria — all amenities that attracted the group, Lockhart said.
It's perhaps appropriate Increo is moving to a site whose history reflects that of Silicon Valley in microcosm. When part-owner Golzen's father bought the land in the 1950s, there were no offices and no highway — just a two-lane road, Golzen said.
His father rented the plot to cement trucks whose noisy diesel engines bothered residents of downtown Palo Alto, he said. Signs of the postwar building boom, the cement trucks became victims of the same boom when Golzen's father decided to build offices on the site in 1966. More offices followed in the 1970s and 1980s — software firm Adobe Systems passed through in 1982, Golzen said.
Later, during the tech craze of the late 1990s, college kids crowded in with fresh-born companies and rent rose to $4 per square foot, he said.
Then the tech sector crashed and things died down a bit. Increo is the first group of college-age founders he has seen in a while, he said.
Standing in the space soon to be Increo's office, Lockhart turned to Thang.
"You can have all the monitors you want," she said.
In response, Thang spread his arms. "And I can jump in here," he said, only half-joking.
More than a jump, the move may be a leap into the company's future.
This article is the second in a series to track the company as it grows, examining a Silicon Valley start-up at its very beginning.
Company Increo Solutions
Funding Draper Fisher Jurvetson
Incorporation March, 2008
Products Increo's plan is to help companies benefit from the informal brainstorming that often leads to great ideas, according to CEO Lockhart. The company will offer a range of Web-based services, including a high-powered semantic search engine to link similar ideas, she said. The search service will only be available to paying customers. Last month the company launched Backboard, a public, free program that allows users to create "backboards," or pages where graphics, documents or presentations can be uploaded. Friends and colleagues are invited via e-mail to visit the site and collaborate.
Web site www.getincreo.com
Staff Writer Arden Pennell can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.