Whether its kegerators full of kombucha, or a video game break after lunch, startups on Capitol Hill share a lot of similarities with other burgeoning companies in Seattle where relaxed atmospheres, beer in the refrigerator, and foosball tables reign supreme.
But unlike other new businesses staking their place in the world of commerce, startups on Capitol Hill don’t have a ton of peers.
“Yeah, we’re definitely not a hub yet,” said David Martin, the co-founder and CEO of Trakstar, a company that makes web-based human resources software for evaluating employees. “Capitol Hill isn’t like Pioneer Square or South Lake Union, where there are startups everywhere.”
Capitol Hill is to home to several successful startups, like Walk Score, Substantial, Trakstar, and World Famous, but Martin says it’s the lack of available real estate that makes it hard for more small businesses to make the Hill their home.
“I’m disappointed there isn’t more space,” said Martin. “There’s so much construction going on and the Hill is changing fast right now. And I’m a fan overall of density, but I’m disappointed because we don’t have a balance. It’s so heavily residential that we’re not getting the commercial real estate we need to make this a startup hub. Parking is also a nightmare.”
But the tough rental market and lack of parking isn’t enough to keep Martin from choosing Capitol Hill as the home for Trakstar.
“We’re really lucky to have this office space,” he told me, sun shining in on us from the floor-to-ceiling windows. “It’s beautiful. We can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
And he’s right, Trakstar’s space is both gorgeous and relaxed. Light and airy, there is a hammock hanging from the ceiling, a foosball table overlooking Pike from giant windows, a kombucha kegerator, bottles of Scotch, and a friendly dog wandering around generously doling out licks.
“I really love living and working in the same neighborhood,” said Martin. “I walk to work. I live on Pike and I work on Pike. And, in an ideal situation, I think human beings should work where they live and not have ridiculous commutes. I love that I can get off of work and then go hang out with my friends at neighborhood bars and restaurants.”
Martin says being located on Capitol Hill is also great for recruiting.
“People want to be in this area. It’s much more appealing to say we’re on Capitol Hill than, say, South Lake Union. It’s not that it’s bad there, it’s just that Capitol Hill is more fun. Block Party happens right in front of us. Pride is here, so we get to be involved with that every year.”
The atmosphere is also what keeps World Famous CEO Alan Nay on Capitol Hill, in the same building as Trakstar. Located at 911 Pike Avenue East, World Famous is a company that makes short films, commercials, web videos, Vine videos, and other creative projects. Their clients include Comedy Central and Disney.
“Capitol Hill has more of that independent spirit that makes me think of Seattle like it was in the 90’s, when I first moved here,” said Nay. “All of the funky little boutiques, and the little shops. I love it. That kind of spirit and culture is so important for creativity.”
Nay and his partner work hard to make culture a top priority at World Famous. It’s a place where there actually is a free lunch, there’s always a refrigerator stocked with beer, and they take a Call of Duty shoot-out break every day.
“Listen,” he told me, staring out his glass office doors at the bright and open room full of employees at their computers. “They’re playing right now. You’ll hear them start yelling in a few minutes when time starts to run out.”
It did get loud as our interview went on, the staff clearly relaxed and friendly with one another. World Famous is about to expand to having another shop in Los Angeles, and Nay wants to transport the Seattle vibe to the City of Angels.
“I love Seattle. It’s my home. I’ve lived in L.A. and Chicago and this is where I want to be,” Nay said. “The L.A. office is an offshoot of us. We aren’t cheesy L.A. guys with perfectly white teeth. We’re creative, non-conformist kind of people. Capitol Hill is perfect for that attitude. The neighborhood helps shape who we are.”
Successful startup Walk Score also agrees that the neighborhood helps shape the business. The company moved to Capitol Hill last year.
“Walk Score is about helping people find great walkable neighborhoods to live, where they have shorter commutes, and that are close to the people and places they love. And, for us, that’s Capitol Hill,” said Walk Score CEO Josh Herst.
Walk Score has grown to ten employees and is located in the Ballou Wright building at 1517 12th Avenue.
“I would absolutely recommend Capitol Hill to other startups,” said Herst. “Capitol Hill is a vibrant neighborhood. There’s a great selection of food and — critical for us — coffee. There’s good access to public transit and expanding bike infrastructure like the new green lanes on Broadway. And, with a Walk Score 90, Transit Score 75, and Bike Score 82, Capitol Hill is a “Walker’s Paradise.”’