Kirk Thompson had been in facilities and project management for 30 years and couldn’t believe what he was hearing. It was his first day at Rocket Fuel Inc. in 2013, and his new boss was predicting that the company would grow by 100 percent annually for at least the next three years. “I’ve been around enough to know there’s no way a company can grow that fast,” Thompson says, recalling the moment. “It’s impossible to hire good people and support that trajectory.” But, Thompson decided that if his new employer was forecasting explosive growth, then he’d better develop a real estate plan to make it happen—and it’s a good thing he did.
Rocket Fuel, a big-data and artificial intelligence company that serves advertisers, has gone from revenues of $2.3 million to $240.6 million since 2009, and in both 2013 and 2014, it delivered on its promise to double in size. The ongoing growth has forced Thompson to find new office space in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Denver, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, London, and other locations around the world.
Thompson, who grew up in Silicon Valley and has a degree in business management, is a natural fit for the Redwood City, California, tech company. “I’ve seen the dot-com boom and all the iterations of business here, and I’ve seen all the trends come and go,” he says. Now, he’s drawing on deep experience with facilities at large companies such as Lucent Netcare, Motorola, and Omnicell to ensure Rocket Fuel can sustain its dramatic expansion.
When Thompson walked in the door, the company had 65,000 square feet worldwide and fewer than 250 employees. It finished 2014 with 750,000 square feet and more than 1,000 employees. As that growth continues, Thompson is working with business and operations to determine where Rocket Fuel needs to expand and how his real estate team needs to respond. The facilities he and his team have built so far are helping to stem the tide.
In 2013, Rocket Fuel was hiring so many new employees that it ran out of space in its original headquarters: new hires were sitting in break rooms in the 30,000-square-foot building while a valet service parked employees’ and visitors’ cars blocks away because the building’s parking lot was always full by early morning. Thompson’s first job was to find space for a new headquarters and move all the employees in as quickly as possible. Senior managers asked him to find a site close to their existing building, and though competition in the area is fierce, with companies such as Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn scrambling for the same limited properties, Thompson identified a perfect location just five minutes away. Rocket Fuel quickly signed a lease for the 145,000-square-foot, four-story site in a 1.7 million-square-foot office park, and it has since become an impressive new home.
The company worked quickly to build out the top two floors so that employees could move in throughout February 2014, and this allowed Thompson to spend more time creating additional space on the first two floors. The building has numerous cozy amenities and perks for its employees, and Thompson and his team are specifying many sustainable features as well. A national contract with Shaw Carpets, for instance, will place half a million square feet of eco-friendly carpet in Rocket Fuel properties, including the headquarters, and every light fixture there will include a dimmable ballast and motion sensors that, together, will produce energy savings of nearly 50 percent.
Reaching beyond Redwood City, Rocket Fuel has secured 5 permanent leases, 6 temporary leases, and 10 subleases in major North American cities such as Detroit, Chicago, and New York City. In San Francisco, the company signed a lease with Hudson Pacific for 48,876 square feet in the Mid-Market district.
Though the neighborhood was once economically depressed, Twitter’s 2013 entry there is driving a revival, and Rocket Fuel got in just in time. The company secured its space—at the top floor of a 21-story high-rise—just before tenants such as Uber and Square moved in, and it has a deal in place for the 15th floor as well. And, now, like many other Rocket Fuel locations with more than 50 employees, the San Francisco office provides catered lunches four days a week, free snacks and sodas, and pick-up/drop-off dry cleaning.
San Francisco is one of many Rocket Fuel locations where Thompson has deployed a standard design prototype to reduce build time and eliminate costs. Armed with information about preferred colors and finishes, architects and contractors can move faster and match Rocket Fuel’s frenetic pace.
Though Thompson once thought accommodating Rocket Fuel’s aggressive growth would be impossible, he’s found that a team of talented and dedicated colleagues can make it work. Now, for each major expansion project, his first step is to talk to a local broker and analyze programming needs. Then, he hires a project manager, interviews and hires an architect, and brings on a general contractor and a superintendent. “It’s important to piece together a local team that can take on a project without major or constant direction,” he says.
Such was the case in London, where Thompson asked the local team to find the building site. The location they decided on, originally built as a telecommunications hub, was a perfect fit. Crews gutted the old space and provided power and HVAC while Rocket Fuel finished it to internal specifications. The office sits across from the Royal Opera House at 34 Bow Street.
The important projects are complete, but Rocket Fuel shows no signs of slowing down. Now, Thompson says, his teams are refurbishing a Department of Defense building in Los Angeles, and they have signed additional leases in Dallas, Denver, Atlanta, and Toronto.