Really the title should be a phrase: we need more whiteboards! The number of startups here and New York are growing like brushfires. If you visit a few startups one thing you see is lots of Whiteboards. Seems like startups and dry erase boards are like chocolate and peanut butter, or like Red Bull and, well startups. They go great together.
Whiteboards are one of the most important business tools a startup could have… entrepreneurship and software development are inherently creative, collaborative, information intensive processes. The startup blogosphere has lots of posts on hiring, marketing, software development and fundraising. But what about whiteboards? The “experts” are missing this critical tool in the entrepreneur toolkit. Sure you may learn something from Lee Hower that will help you close $5,000,000 in funding, but what good is that money if can’t collaboratively design your next pivot? That requires a great collaboration and brainstorming tool, the best I've ever seen at least.
Successful project management systems revolve around people. And as you probably know, no matter how many new “innovative” project management tools you try, there is always a role for the age-old, reliable whiteboard. It is the ultimate collaborative tool.
As a startup Founder and Investor, I found the whiteboard to be central to any good business. It encourages focus, communications and effectiveness. Sadly, today, whiteboards are not getting the critical attention they deserve, an online-startup-knowledge void I hope to fill.
So at first glance, it seems easy. Walk over to Staples and pick a size and order. But wait, you’re embarking on building a world changing company, the next Facebook, and the whiteboard is a critical tool of your craft. It would be like Lady GaGa buying her outfits at Lane Bryant, or Michael Jordan buying his sneakers at Payless. They're more creative than that, and you can be too.
True, every penny counts in a startup, but you shouldn't cut corners on your most critical tools. Would you swap your new 27’ Mac for a 5 year old Gateway to save a few bucks, no way! Maybe your whiteboard is just as key?
So what are your other choices?
Whiteboard Wallpaper – I have had good experiences with wallpaper. Several of the conference rooms at Mimeo.com have floor to ceiling whiteboard walls, and the ideas just keep coming when the space allows. One consideration, the wallpaper comes in both mat and glossy finish. I recommend gloss, unless you are also using the wall for projecting in which case I would recommend a mat finish.
Whiteboard paint – I have not had as much success with paint, but I think this is a good option for irregular surfaces where you anticipate light use (i.e list that change only monthly). The other advantage is the paint can be applied it to any shape or place in your office, but it’s definitely a light duty option.
Write-on poly sheets - are basically glorified white vinyl sheets (just a small step up from thick trash bags) but they are great when you need something right this instant, right now, today. Poly sheets are also temporary, so you can take them with you when you take over your investor’s summer house for your corporate offsite. The con, they’re tricky to handle, and like plastic wrap they cling to themselves ferociously. The other con is any office that has plastic cling whiteboards definitely gives of the image that you will be packed up and gone tomorrow. Not exactly reassuring to potential hires. (BTW, its also easy to get overly enthusiastic and accidentally write over the edge, onto the wall).
I didn't mention blackboards and blackboard paint, mainly because from time to time I wear a suit, and chalk and suits don’t mix. Betaworks seems to have success with blackboards, and I have seen them in the quantitative trading conference room at Morgan Stanley. The math PHDs love them, they give off a real academic vibe, but I don’t like the fact that the black surface can’t double as a projector screen (and like I said, chalk is messy). So until I get my own “minority report” super screen, I am counting whiteboards as a core startup tool.