Escaping the gravity

This is a guest post by Kasey McCurdy, Vice President of Engineering at Bunchball.

As I wrote about previously, our California-based company had an experiment that went much better than expected. As a company, we needed to grow, and given the incredibly difficult competitive landscape in Silicon Valley, it made sense to look at ... greener pastures.

In 2012, after spending two years alone working from my basement, I had the incredibly fortuitous chance to add a co-pilot to my adventure. After slow-playing Andrew Kirpalani for a few weeks, he agreed to join us and our “Iowa Team” was born.

One major problem quickly arose, however...where in the hell were we going to work? In what was surely one of the worst decisions in my life, we decided to work out of my basement for about two weeks. 

Fortunately for me, one of the countless reasons I hired "Kirps" was because I knew he was extremely connected with the startup and technology scene in Des Moines. This connection was hugely beneficial, as his relationship with Christian Renaud and Tej Dewan of StartupCity Des Moines allowed us to become some of the first people to cowork out of the space. We were given a pretty awesome rate for monthly rent, I got to engage more with the community, and it gave us a great spot to work alongside other like-minded people. Winning.

We even changed software development paradigms and invented quad-programming at Startup City.

We even changed software development paradigms and invented quad-programming at Startup City.

In what seemed like a blink of an eye, we had grown to five people in Iowa, creating an incredibly tight-knit team and contributing to a growing and energized community. StartupCity was an incredible blessing and a great place to grow.

Then just over a year after we’d moved in, in September 2014, StartupCity was gone.

Our MegaDesk 4000™ (right) was awesome when the four of us were all roughly the same height. But, as we grew, seemingly did the height of our people. Thus, we had to make real desks (left).

Our MegaDesk 4000™ (right) was awesome when the four of us were all roughly the same height. But, as we grew, seemingly did the height of our people. Thus, we had to make real desks (left).

We had some warning that our favorite incubator / coworking place was closing it’s doors, but it was still a somewhat scary time for all of us in our nascent community. It felt as if we were just hitting our stride, only to have the rug pulled out from underneath us. We held town-hall meeting after town-hall meeting to figure out what our options were, where we could go next, and the ultimately what the fate of this group of technological hopefuls would be. After several weeks of seemingly no progress and even fewer options, someone stepped forward and offered to carry the torch.

I remember clearly when Geoff Wood approached me and asked if I had a few minutes to check out a building just a block or so south of Startup City. It had a small outside chance of becoming our new home ... but it was in rough shape. It was going to be a miracle if this all panned out. Previously, the Midland Building was home to a number of former government offices and the soul-crushing aesthetic of government interior design was still very present as the ceilings were just barely above head-height. 

It was clear that we’d have some work to do. And work we did. We rolled up our sleeves metaphorically and physically, and everyone pitched in. 

The definition of a fixer-upper.

The definition of a fixer-upper.

Geoff pounded the pavement hard and managed to find sponsors for the space that truly made it all possible. With a few major sponsors lined up (a huge thanks to all of you), and some free labor provided by many in the community (nice job, team), the doors to Gravitate opened just a few days after StartupCity closed. 

With the ashes of our previous home still freshly floating in the air, we were moving into a new space that would mark Chapter 3 of the Bunchball Iowa story, and yet another shot at success for the greater Des Moines technology community.

Not only was Gravitate “a place,” but it was an awesome place. Lyndsay Horgan had designed an incredibly modern, well thought-out, spacious layout for us to occupy. The furniture was absolutely beautiful and looked like a professional space that anyone would be proud to call home, hold an offsite meeting, or just escape their office for a day. There were conference rooms-a-plenty. The internet was blazing fast. First Friday events were awesome, and much beer was had. Most importantly, we had a dedicated office where we could be...us.

The space at Gravitate is so beautiful, this stock photo of it is spotted randomly all over the internet at a regularity that is almost comical.

The space at Gravitate is so beautiful, this stock photo of it is spotted randomly all over the internet at a regularity that is almost comical.

As I look back upon the story of Gravitate up until this point in time, it’s crystal clear that Gravitate is an incredible accomplishment and a jewel of our city’s culture. Geoff continues to tirelessly shoulder the burden and risk of facilitating a community that is growing more incredibly vibrant each and every day thanks in large part to his contributions. 

When we moved in nearly a year and a half ago, the five of us never anticipated that we’d reach eight, ten, or fifteen people in such a short time. But, as we continue to find time and time again, Iowa has some incredible talent, and we can’t help ourselves. As we grew, the flexibility and grace that was afforded to us at Gravitate was an absolute advantage to any other option. If we needed another conference room, or an overflow space for our employees, it always seemed to work out that someone was vacating a space that we could then occupy. We weren’t locked into a five-year lease or forced to pay for things we didn’t need. We grew with Gravitate and were able to because of Gravitate

As with all good things, this chapter spent at Gravitate has come to an end for Bunchball. Despite the awesome amenities, people, and space at Gravitate, our future plans here in Des Moines require us to find a new, larger space. We’ve moved to the East Village, and we now call Market One home, just south of the Iowa Tap Room. We really trust that moving this close to 140+ tap handles of beer will be judged by history as a “good move.” 

I’m writing this on a flight back from NYC, and my mind began to ponder what it means to escape the pull of gravity and take to the sky. Gravitate’s mission has always been to be the “center of gravity” for the growing Des Moines technology scene. True to it’s name, and to its charter, Gravitate has pulled in some of the best and most talented people I’ve had the chance to meet, and there are no signs of slowing down. As for us, it’s time to take off and escape the gravity for the next adventure. But, just as with any flight where you stare out the window, we look back to our origin with a smile, many memories, and a promise to return often.