There’s something about the early days of a start-up that is truly magical. As the first ideas move from the dry erase board to a computer screen, the small office culture becomes awash with excitement. There is an overwhelming feeling that you are working on something bigger than yourselves, something that could one day become a household name, change the world for the better, and immortalize your names as the team who made it happen. The first building in which a company chooses to house itself becomes solidified in the founders’ minds as the place where it all began, the walls between which their dreams became reality. In the world of technology, there is no better office in which to incubate a start-up than 165 University Avenue in Palo Alto, California.
165 University Avenue is an office with a history, as the one-time home of several of the most successful Internet start-ups to date. Chalk it up to the clean air, friendly people, or sunny location, but there is something about that particular office that seems to bring good luck to the companies who begin their lives there. Google first set up shop here, as did PayPal and Danger, Inc., and we here at Milo are lucky enough to have started our company’s journey at this very same address. Today, we pay homage to the 165 University Avenue office by telling the story of this building’s rich history of success.
Though the building is now seen as a legendary good luck charm for any tech company hoping to make it big, the building itself isn’t particularly flashy, nor is it located in an inherently lucky location. The light brown, two-story structure doesn’t jump out from its surroundings as being a fortune-building machine in any specific way. It’s quietly situated along a busy downtown street in Palo Alto, not far from Stanford University, and little on the outside points to the historic events that have occurred within its doors. However, with its tiled open-air courtyard on the second floor and its large windows overlooking the bustle outside, the building does possess a certain modest charm. When landlord Rahim Amidi purchased the property in 1988, everyone knew he had acquired something special. A business partner of Amidi commented to CNET that “there is just great charisma about the building.”
Logitech was one of Amidi’s earliest tenants, and the first in a string of super-successful technology companies who would one day occupy his building. Logitech, a world famous producer of computer input devices such as powerful keyboards and gaming joysticks, had to battle against harsh competition from towering opponents such as Microsoft and IBM. Despite the odds, they have prevailed to become one of gaming’s leading performance brands. In fact, popular computer gaming enthusiast site Overclocker’s Club calls their G15 gaming keyboard, “every gamer’s dream keyboard.” Could their success have something to do with lucky 165?
After Logitech came Amidi’s next two tenants, which were, at the time, two young and rising start-ups: Google and PayPal. After meeting at nearby Stanford University, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin left their studies and officially founded their start-up at 165 University Avenue. In 1999, Brin and Page, who had both walked away from world-class PhD programs to pursue their vision of a fast, logical search engine, began working out of the building and perfecting the technology that would soon come to define search. By 2001, the two had grown their company to 100 employees and began turning a profit. By 2004, they announced Google’s Initial Public Offering. Soon after, the company name became officially recognized as a verb in the English language and was added to both the Oxford English Dictionary and the eleventh edition of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary.
Soon after Google got too big to stay, PayPal moved in with only a handful of employees. Within a year, they housed 55 people, forcing vice president Jack Shelby to convert a closet into his personal office to save space. Despite this confinement, Shelby told CNET that he remembers the experience fondly. “We’ve now had four places, and I would say that was the best,” said Shelby, adding that the location had a great deal to do with the productivity. With so many nearby conveniences, restaurants and fast food stores, “[the engineers had] no excuse to disappear for a two-hour lunch,” he recalls. PayPal eventually outgrew the office capacity at the famous building and had to move elsewhere as they too expanded into a publicly held company. In 2002, PayPal was purchased by online auction website eBay for $1.5 billion. In a CNN report on the story, then-President and CEO of eBay, Meg Whitman commented, “eBay and PayPal have complementary missions. We both empower people to buy and sell online. Together we can improve the user experience and make online trading more compelling.”
It wasn’t long before Rahim Amidi thought it wise to begin seed investing in some of the start-ups that took up residence in his building. Together with several other business partners, Amidi incorporated an investment group known as Amidzad. This group has provided seed money in the range of $25,000 – $1 million dollars to several companies, including PayPal and Danger, Inc., another lucky 165 start-up in Palo Alto.
Danger, Inc. is the latest phenomenally-successful start-up to come out of the building. The company specializes in making hand-held devices, the most famous of which is the T-Mobile Sidekick (also known as the Danger Hiptop). By 2003, the company had already grown too big for the small office and moved to a larger building close by. But financial trouble followed and it looked like the once successful company might have no choice but to go under. By 2008, Danger was reporting a net loss in excess of $188 million and things were looking grim. But, despite the depressing investment outlook, and perhaps because of the lucky 165 University Avenue origin, Danger attracted a $500 million buyout offer from Microsoft and sold in 2008.
Today, Milo occupies the very quarters that housed these companies in their nascence. We hope to do the lucky 165 legacy proud by throwing our hat in the ring of strong start-ups that have come from this historic office. Our goal is nothing less than becoming a household name, an essential resource and, perhaps, even a word in the English language.
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