Internet Firm Has Spacious Digs in a Toole Warehouse

December 10, 2012

by Teya Vitu

Ever notice how just about every TV or movie character based in Manhattan lives or works in some enormous loft space, repurposing this factory or that from 100 years ago?

Elegant Thought owner Brendon Hicks in the meeting area with sofas. The pool table may be seen in the background.

Ever notice that none of us live or work in a vast warehouse loft chic environment?

Almost none of us, at any rate. Brendon Hicks moved his Internet applications firm Elegant Thought into the warehouse at 15 E. Toole Ave. in July.

3,000 square feet. Eight employees. One huge room with no walls, no cubicles, even Hicks’s office is out in the open. Their workstations fill maybe 300 of those square feet. The rest?

Up front, there’s the pool table with suspended lighting on one side, a vintage upright piano topped with an aquarium housing a small desert tortoise on the other. Beyond that, you come upon the “living room” – sofas, arm chairs, throw rug, Hicks’s guitar upright on a stand, and a huge projection screen on the brick wall.

“We can do karaoke,” Hicks said. “I got everything off craigslist.”

Just beyond the sofas, a dart board looks very small on the wall. Past the dartboard sits a small high table with four high chairs. The adjacent wall baring three identical white-and-black analog clocks with times for Tucson, New York and London. Then there’s the ping pong table.

“I want to get the young coders,” Hicks said. “The average age here is like 25, if you don’t count me. I specifically wanted to move closer to Downtown and the university. It is definitely a recruitment tool. I’ve had people walk by and say ‘I want to work there.’”

Nearly all of Elegant Thought’s work is for a major London accounting firm, where Hicks worked for 11 years at its New York office before striking out on his own.

You think setting up a small Internet firm in a warehouse community more associated with artists is offbeat? Elegant Thought’s first office in 2008 was in Istanbul, Turkey.

The work area for the eight employees fills a tiny amount of space in the vast warehouse.

“My wife is Turkish,” said Hicks, himself a native Tucsonan. “We spend all our vacation time in Turkey. It made sense if I was going to outsource that would be the place to do it.”

By early 2011, Hicks realized he wanted to work with his team more face-to-face. He moved Elegant Thought in May 2011 to a small Broadway office near Jessica Avenue, between Wilmot and Kolb roads.

“The team grew pretty quickly. We outgrew the space,” Hicks said. “I was looking at office space. It was all $14 to $18 per square foot for mid-range offices that were not great.”

When he looked at the Fenton Investments real estate offerings, he saw a variety of standard offices – and this warehouse on Toole Avenue.

“I was looking at this. It needed work but it’s considerably cheaper,” Hicks said. “I wanted an open concept. We had to sand and finish the (original wood) floor. We put insulation on the ceiling and a new back window (to dampen the train noise).”

The 15 E. Toole warehouse is a win-win for Elegant Thought. The company does not need to impress clients with some sparkling, antiseptic, modern office setting, and the employees get the urban benefits right outside the door.

“We’re almost equidistant from Congress and 4th Avenue,” Hicks said. “If you want to go out at nights, it’s right there. We often walk to lunch. We’re all thinking of getting bikes. I joined the Y. It’s right there. You don’t have to get into a car.”

Clocks display the time in Tucson, New York and London.

Hicks grew up in Tucson but went to Massachusetts to double major in economics and computer science at Amherst College. He got a job as a market analyst at a global accounting firm in New York in 1996. The firm then made him the technology manager for its global intranet for some 150,000 employees.

He moved back to Tucson in 2004 while still working for the New York firm, but four years later started Elegant Thought.

“We build Web-based applications for corporate clients. We also build mobile apps for iPad or iPhone. We do a lot of interactive Web development so that users can explore data and information.”

What Hicks is talking about is benchmarking tools, where you get to pick and choose various items to get a custom answer – such as: if you want to know how many 25-to-30-year olds voted for Mitt Romney in Pima County, you could pick an age element, a county element and a candidate element.

The potential for Elegant Thought is endless. Hicks’ primary client alone has some 100,000 Web pages. He’s not looking at growing beyond 20 employees. The Toole warehouse is perfect for him for the foreseeable future. All he needs is coders to keep up with the burgeoning new technologies.

“Tucson is not known as a hotbed of Web coders. It’s not like talent is swarming to Tucson. I’d like to get the best coders I can.”