Workspace on Water: Blueseed Plants Entrepreneurs Offshore

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A 600-foot-long floating workspace will carry precious cargo in the form of 1,000 entrepreneurs.

A new project called Blueseed will fill a ship with hundreds of startups and anchor them 12 miles offshore San Francisco in international waters.

The location will allow entrepreneurs from around the world to start or grow their company without the need for a U.S. work visa.

“EB-5 visas remain ridiculously expensive. And we know how hard it is to get H-1B. We thought, what can we do? Let’s think outside the box,” said Baoguang Zhai, researcher at Blueseed and speaker at WorkTech12 West Coast on Oct. 15.

The project, being branded as the “Googleplex of the sea,” is backed by PayPal founder and Facebook early investor Peter Thiel and is expected to launch in the third quarter of 2013.

“Blueseed the first workspace in the ocean that gathers the best talent worldwide,” said Zhai.

The idea is to plant high-tech ideas on the sea, watch them grow and collect enough capital to jump ship and score visas.

Companies could then be transplanted to the fertile tech grounds of Silicon Valley.

The ship will retain some of the same amenities that cruise ships have today, while others can be tweaked and altered to fit an entrepreneur passenger’s needs.

For example, existing cafes “would be awesome,” he said, adding that he knows plenty of entrepreneurs who thrive in a Starbucks-type environment.

“A pool is a classic social scene for startups,” he said, adding that others in Redwood City and Mountain View use the liquid spaces for the same purpose.

Theatres on cruise ships can be easily used as a conference site.

“I think we should have this [WorkTech] conference on our ship,” he said, stirring a round of applause from the crowd.

This year’s conference was held in Evernote’s new headquarters in Redwood City.

“There is another category of things on cruise ships that our hardworking, humble entrepreneurs don’t really need,” he said.

Those include dance floors, luxury shops and casinos.

“Casinos work for James Bond, but we want to be the next Mark Zuckerberg,” he said.

The good news is that those extraneous elements can free up more space for what entrepreneurs are really in need of.

“The dance floor can be turned into workspace. The final result is we got at least 49,984 square feet from all this converted space, plus original cafes and pools,” he said.

In order to maximize productivity, planners considered closed or open office environments.

Isolated workspaces fend off disruptions, but they are also more expensive. In addition, the idea of holing a company in a room in six-hour stints doesn’t encourage collaboration or innovation.

An open office environment isn’t flawless, either.

“We have people complaining it is really hard for them to concentrate if everyone else around them is taking calls or talking all the time,” he said.

A one-size plan does not fit all, so Blueseed came up with a fluid office solution.

Some of the single cabins will be allocated into small offices, which anyone can sign up for.

One model was Pixar’s Emeryville, Calif. headquarters, which Steve Jobs famously installed just two bathrooms in one area of the office.

“This is really inefficient for employees because they have to walk 10 minutes just to get to the bathroom,” he said.

Jobs’ intention was to create foot traffic in the hallways, encouraging discussion.

“I’m not saying we are going to have two bathrooms the whole ship – I guess by doing that, the bathroom would break down,” he said.

There will, however, be a central area designed for people to mingle, he said, adding that they may be several bathrooms for each deck to replicate Jobs’ approach.

According to the Allen curve, discovered by Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Thomas Allen in the 1970s, communication plummets after two people are separated by more than 50 meters.

Those proximity boundaries will be applied to workspaces on the ship.

“The rest of the cabins will be where people live together, like a college dorm,” he said.

With 1,014 people from 309 startups from 60 countries on board Blueseed, the cross-communication between cultures and backgrounds will be a huge selling point.

“You don’t need to travel to countries to get inspiration because they will be right next door to you,” he said.

The workspace won’t be a permanent residence, with some entrepreneurs on the ship for three to six months.

It’s a 30-minute trip to get to Half Moon Bay, and daily ferries will run back and forth so that entrepreneurs can get a mix of surf and turf.

“It’s not like real pirates who are isolated on the same ship with nowhere else to go,” he said.

Blueseed is considering setting up an office in Half Moon Bay to help expedite the visa process once startups are ready to land in Silicon Valley.

Any ship on international waters needs a flag, and Blueseed will carry the flag of the Bahamas. Blueseed hired top tech and startup law firm Fenwick & West in Mountain View to work out intellectual property issues that may arise on the high seas.


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